Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain


As a concerned stakeholder deeply committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue on the human rights situation in Bahrain. Bahrain continues to grapple with significant human rights violations across various spheres. Our statement will highlight key concerns regarding freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of peaceful assembly, the administration of justice, including impunity and detainees’ rights.

Freedom of Expression and Assembly

In Bahrain, the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly often comes at a steep price, entangling individuals in a web of injustice perpetrated by a deficient judicial and prison system. Despite occasional gestures of clemency, the kingdom’s track record reveals a troubling pattern of repression against dissenting voices, exemplified by its staggering incarceration rates and the plight of political prisoners.

A 2022 report from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights paints a grim picture of the kingdom’s human rights landscape, highlighting the imprisonment of an estimated 4,500 political activists. This figure underscores Bahrain’s notoriety for having one of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the Middle East, signaling the extent of state-led efforts to stifle dissent and muzzle opposition.

In mid-April 2024, hopes were briefly kindled as human rights organizations welcomed King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa’s decision to pardon 1500 incarcerated individuals, including human rights defenders detained for their advocacy work. While this gesture offered a glimmer of hope, it was overshadowed by the reality that a significant number of political prisoners, including prominent activists, remained behind bars.

Among these individuals are figures like Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, whose cases epitomize the government’s systematic crackdown on dissent. Al-Singace, a key figure in Bahrain’s democratic movement, and Al-Khawaja, a Bahraini-Danish human rights defender, have been subjected to years of imprisonment for their outspoken advocacy. Despite concerted efforts by non-governmental organizations and appeals to authorities for their release, justice remains elusive for these individuals.

The continued detention of Al-Singace, Al-Khawaja, and others underscores the kingdom’s disregard for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. It serves as a stark reminder of the perils faced by those who dare to challenge the status quo and speak truth to power in Bahrain. Their plight is emblematic of the government’s relentless efforts to silence dissenting voices and maintain a stranglehold on political discourse.

Moreover, the cases of Al-Singace and Al-Khawaja underscore the international community’s role in advocating for human rights and holding Bahraini authorities accountable. Non-governmental organizations, including the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, have tirelessly campaigned for their release, highlighting the global solidarity behind their cause.

As Bahrain grapples with its human rights record, the plight of political prisoners serves as a litmus test for the kingdom’s commitment to democratic principles and the protection of fundamental freedoms. The international community must continue to urge Bahrain to uphold its obligations under international law and ensure the release of all individuals unjustly detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In particular, the suppression of political dissent violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Bahrain is a State party. Also, it can be noticed the contravention of Article 20 UDHR and Article 21 ICCPR, both provisions including freedom of assembly.

Freedom of Belief in Bahrain

Many discrepancies can be observed between domestic laws and international standards for the freedom of belief. It appears clear that Bahrain’s legal framework falls short of upholding these obligations, and the case of Jalal al-Qassab and Redha Rajab, two members of the Bahraini cultural and social association Al Tajdeed, sheds light on the complexities surrounding freedom of belief in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Their recent conviction for “mocking” Islamic beliefs has sparked debates about the limits of religious expression and the protection of individual rights within the country. In March, they found themselves sentenced to a year in prison and fined, following allegations that their YouTube commentaries on Quranic verses contradicted “authoritative rulings on the power of Allah” and “insulted a symbol and revered figure in a specific religious community.” These charges, brought forth by the Public Prosecution, underscore the challenges faced by individuals seeking to engage in open discussions about religion and Islamic jurisprudence.

The legal proceedings against al-Qassab and Rajab are rooted in Bahrain’s penal code, particularly articles 309 and 310, which prohibit the offense or ridicule of recognized religious sects and their teachings. While these provisions ostensibly aim to protect religious sensibilities, they raise questions about the balance between freedom of expression and the safeguarding of religious beliefs.

Moreover, the case of al-Qassab and Rajab underscores broader concerns about religious freedom and tolerance in Bahrain. While the constitution ostensibly guarantees “absolute” freedom of conscience, it also qualifies the right to freedom of opinion and expression, provided they do not undermine Islamic doctrine or national unity. This ambiguity leaves room for interpretation and raises concerns about the potential suppression of dissenting voices under the guise of protecting religious sensitivities.

We call for a revision of Bahrain’s penal code to ensure alignment with international human rights standards and the protection of individual liberties.

Also, Bahrain’s restrictions on freedom of religion and belief extend beyond legal persecution. Shia Bahrainis have faced barriers in accessing places of worship, exemplified by security forces’ blockades preventing worshippers from reaching the Imam al-Sadiq mosque. Such actions not only infringe upon religious freedoms but also exacerbate sectarian tensions within the kingdom.

The kingdom’s legal framework and practices run clearly counter to international human rights norms enshrined in the Articles 18 of the ICCPR.

Unfair Trials

It is imperative to bring to the attention of the UPR Committee the prevalent issues of arbitrary detention and unfair trials that plague the Kingdom of Bahrain. These practices, rife with violations of due process and allegations of torture, paint a troubling picture of the human rights situation in the country.

Arbitrary detentions, in clear contravention of Article 19 and Article 20 of the UDHR, have become a widespread phenomenon in Bahrain. Peaceful protesters, activists, bloggers, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, and religious figures have all been targeted, their basic rights trampled upon in the name of maintaining order.

Furthermore, detainees are often subjected to prolonged periods of pretrial detention, during which they endure unimaginable suffering. Reports of torture and ill-treatment, including beatings, rape, solitary confinement, medical negligence, verbal abuse, and religious discrimination, are distressingly common.

Adding to the injustice, law enforcement officers frequently impede detainees’ access to legal counsel, undermining their ability to mount a proper defense. Meanwhile, judges exacerbate the situation by denying bail requests or limiting defense attorneys’ participation in proceedings, all without providing adequate explanations.

These systemic violations of human rights not only undermine the rule of law but also erode the very fabric of justice and fairness in Bahrain. Urgent action is needed to address these egregious abuses, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure that all individuals are treated with dignity and respect under the law. 

Upholding Detainees’ Rights for ensuring fair treatment and dignity

Inmates have repeatedly denounced the appalling conditions of the Bahraini prison system, with a particular emphasis on the severe limitations imposed on their access to adequate medical care.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Hasan Mushaima, Sheikh Mirza Mahroos, Mohamed Hameed AlDaqqaq, and Ahmed Abdulla AlAjaimi are just a few of the individuals whose daily struggles within Bahraini prisons epitomize the pervasive medical neglect. Despite their pleas for help, authorities have routinely turned a blind eye to their medical needs, exacerbating their suffering.

These harrowing testimonies shed light on the deplorable state of Bahraini prisons. In addition to inadequate medical care, inmates have raised concerns about prolonged solitary confinement, limited outdoor time, restricted religious rights, and obstructed family visits, further compounding their anguish.

The situation escalates to even greater levels of brutality with reports of torture methods and excessive force employed by prison authorities, particularly in response to riots. The use of such inhumane tactics only serves to deepen the cycle of suffering within the prison walls.

In protest against these systemic injustices, hunger strikes have become a recurring form of resistance among inmates. The latest reported strike, orchestrated by over 400 prisoners at the notorious Jau prison in August 2023, swelled to encompass 800 participants by month’s end. This coordinated act of defiance underscores the widespread discontent and desperation among those imprisoned under deplorable conditions.

Furthermore, the persecution of human rights defenders in Bahrain extends far beyond the confines of the prison walls, permeating into the post-release phase. Restrictions on employment opportunities through arbitrary requirements like the “good standing” certificate serve as yet another mechanism of repression, perpetuating the cycle of injustice long after individuals are released from custody.

This prison negligence violates inmates’ rights to be free form torture and to good health, enshrined in Article 5 and 25 of the UDHR. In fact, the deliberate withholding of essential healthcare not only contravenes human rights but also edges toward cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Also, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Bahrain is legally obligated to ensure the highest standards of physical and mental health for those in its custody, according to Article 12, and to guarantee the right of work to former prisoners according to Article 6.


The Universal Periodic Review mechanism must address the pressing human rights concerns in Bahrain.

The testimonies of prisoners like Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the plight of political activists underscore the urgent need for reform within Bahrain’s judicial and prison system. The government’s failure to uphold detainees’ rights, including access to adequate medical care and protection from torture, violates international human rights standards and demands immediate action.

Similarly, the suppression of freedom of expression and assembly, exemplified by the persecution of political dissenters, contradicts Bahrain’s obligations under the UDHR and the ICCPR.

Moreover, Bahrain’s restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, as evidenced by the case of Jalal al-Qassab and Redha Rajab, highlight the need for legal reform to align domestic laws with international human rights norms. Furthermore, the barriers faced by women in passing on their nationality and the challenges encountered by migrants, particularly domestic workers, underscore the ongoing struggle for gender equality and migrant rights in Bahrain.

In light of these concerns, the UPR Committee must call on Bahrain to uphold its obligations under international law, ensure accountability for human rights violations, and enact reforms to safeguard the rights and dignity of all individuals within its borders. Only through concerted efforts to address these issues Bahrain can truly fulfill its commitments to promoting and protecting human rights for all.