Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1998 Bahrain
Bahrain is a hereditary emirate with few democratic institutions
and no political parties. The Al-Khalifa extended family has ruled
Bahrain since the late 18th century and dominates its society
and government. The Constitution confirms the Amir as hereditary
ruler. The current Amir, Shaikh Isa Bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, governs
the country with the assistance of a younger brother as Prime
Minister, the Amir's son as Crown Prince, and an appointed cabinet
of ministers. In 1975 the Government suspended some provisions
of the 1973 Constitution, including those articles relating to
the National Assembly, which was disbanded and never reconstituted.
Citizens belong to the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam, with the
Shi'a constituting over two-thirds of the indigenous population.
The Sunnis predominate because the ruling family is Sunni and
is supported by the armed forces, the security service, and powerful
Sunni and Shi'a merchant families. After a period of relative
calm in the beginning of the year, Bahrain again experienced incidents
of political unrest. There are few judicial checks on the actions
of the Amir and his Government, and the courts are subject to
The Ministry of Interior is responsible for public security. It
controls the public security force (police) and the extensive
security service, which are responsible for maintaining internal
order. The Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) is responsible for defending
against external threats. It did not play a role in internal security
during the year. Security forces committed serious human rights
Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government domination of many
basic industries, including the important oil and aluminum industries.
Possessing limited oil and gas reserves, the Government is working
to diversify the economic base, concentrating on light manufacturing
and the service sectors, particularly banking, financial services,
and consulting. The Government has used its modest oil revenues
to build a highly advanced transportation and telecommunications
infrastructure. Economic growth has slowed as a result of low
oil prices, but the economy remains stable. Bahrain is a regional
financial and business center. Tourism, particularly via the causeway
linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, also is a significant source
The country's human rights situation improved slightly during
the year due again to a decrease in the level of political unrest
and the easing of civil unrest; however, there was no change in
the Government's human rights practices, and numerous serious
problems remain. The main problems continue to include the denial
of the right of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial
killings; torture; arbitrary arrest; incommunicado and prolonged
detention; involuntary exile; infringement on citizens' privacy
rights; limitations on or the denial of the right to a fair public
trial, especially in the security court; infringements on citizens'
right to privacy; and restrictions on freedom of speech, press,
assembly, association, and worker rights. The Government also
imposes some limits on freedom of religion and movement. Violence
against women and discrimination based on sex, religion, and ethnicity
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings. However, there were
reports of extrajudicial killings by members of the security forces.
On July 22, the body of a young Bahraini, Nooh Khalil Al-Nooh,
from a Shi'a village near Manama, was returned to his family.
He reportedly was tortured to death in police custody (see Sections
1.c., 1.d., and 2.b.). There has been no reported government inquiry
into allegations that he died from torture.
There were no investigations or prosecutions of any security forces
personnel for alleged extrajudicial killings committed during
the year or in previous years.
Two Asian laborers died in early August when a fire destroyed
a store in Manama. Credible sources consider it likely that antigovernment
arsonists were responsible for the attack.
There were no confirmed reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
are prohibited by law; however, there are credible reports that
prisoners often are beaten, both on the soles of their feet and
about the face and head, burned with cigarettes, forced to endure
long periods without sleep, and, in some cases, subjected to electrical
shocks. The Government has difficulty in rebutting allegations
of torture and of other cruel, inhuman, or degrading practices
because it permits incommunicado detention and detention without
trial. There were no known instances of authorities being punished
for abuses committed against detainees and prisoners either during
the year or in any previous year.
Dissidents and human rights groups allege that the security forces
sometimes threaten female detainees with rape and inflict other
forms of sexual abuse and harassment on them while they are in
custody. These allegations are difficult either to confirm or
In July police used tear gas to disperse protests stemming from
the burial of a young Bahraini man who died from mistreatment
while in police custody (see Sections 1.a., 1.d., and 2.b.). In
October security forces used tear gas to disrupt a protest on
Sitra island and arrested demonstrators who were protesting the
death of a Shi'a man who allegedly died from injuries he received
when police detained and tortured him in 1994 (see Sections 1.d.
Prisons are overcrowded but generally meet minimum international
standards. Local defense attorneys report that their clients received
improved care and treatment. In addition, the release of hundreds
of detainees from jail, perhaps as many as 400, during the year's
Murharram (April 28-May 7) plus the reduced number of arrests
in 1998, helped to ease overcrowding. On December 23, another
209 prisoners and detainees were released by the Amir's traditional
National Day decree.
At the Government's invitation, the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) continued the series of visits to prisons
that it started in 1996.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. The Constitution
states that "no person shall be arrested, detained, imprisoned,
searched, or compelled to reside in a specified place...except
in accordance with the provisions of the law and under the supervision
of the judicial authorities." However, in matters regarding
arrest, detention, or exile, the 1974 State Security Act takes
precedence in practice. Under the State Security Act, persons
may be detained for up to 3 years without trial for engaging in
activities or making statements regarded as a threat to the broadly
defined concepts of national harmony and security, and the Government
continued arbitrarily to arrest and detain citizens. The scope
of the State Security Act extends to any case involving arson,
explosions, or attacks on persons at their place of employment
or because of the nature of their work. Detainees have the right
to appeal such detentions after a period of 3 months and, if the
appeal is denied, every 6 months thereafter from the date of the
Government security forces used the State Security Act regularly
during the year to detain persons believed to have been engaged
in antigovernment activities, as well as those who attempted to
exercise their rights of free speech, association, or other rights
deemed to be in opposition to the Government. Activities that
also may lead to detention, questioning, warning, or arrest by
the security forces include: Membership in illegal organizations
or those deemed subversive, painting antigovernment slogans on
walls, joining antigovernment demonstrations (see Section 2.b.),
possessing or circulating antigovernment writings, preaching sermons
considered by the Government to have an antigovernment political
tone, and harboring or associating with persons committing such
In addition to overseeing the security service and police, the
Ministry of Interior also controls the Office of the Public Prosecutor,
whose officers initially determine whether sufficient evidence
exists to continue to hold a prisoner in investigative detention.
The Ministry is responsible for all aspects of prison administration.
In the early stages of detention, prisoners and their attorneys
have no recourse to any authority outside the Ministry of Interior.
The authorities rarely permit visits to inmates who are incarcerated
for security-related offenses, and such prisoners may be held
incommunicado for months, sometimes years. However, prisoners
detained for criminal offenses, generally may receive visits from
family members, usually once a month.
Security forces are estimated to have held over 1,300 people in
detention for security-related offenses during the year, including
some who were arrested, released, and then arrested again. The
Government pardoned as many as 600 persons detained in connection
with antigovernment activities by year's end. At year's end, as
many as 800 persons still remained in detention.
Police rounded up and detained demonstrators in July following
protests stemming from the burial of Nooh Khalil Al-Nooh, a young
Bahraini man who died from mistreatment while in police custody
(see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 2.b.). Abdul Jahil Abdula Khadim,
the owner of the shop where Al-Nooh had worked, reportedly was
arrested in connection with the incident that led to Al-Nooh's
death and remained in detention at year's end. In October police
detained up to 20 young men following demonstrations against the
Government for the death of a Shi'a man who died from injuries
he allegedly received when police detained and tortured him in
1994 (see Section 1.c. and 2.b.).
Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, a prominent Shi'a cleric, longtime opposition
activist, and one of the original 14 signers of the 1994 petition
to the Amir calling for the restoration of the National Assembly,
was arrested in January 1996 and remained in custody throughout
the year. Although he reportedly was accused by the Government
of committing a wide variety of security-related crimes, including
treason, Al-Jamri has not been brought to trial or publicly charged
with any crime. Several other Shi'a clerics associated with Al-Jamri,
including Abdul Wahab Hussein, Hassan Mushaimaa, Hassan Sultan,
Ali Bin Ahmed Al-Jedhafsi, and Haji Hassan Jarallah, also were
arrested at the same time as Al-Jamri and remain in jail. One
of the clerics detained, Ali Mirza Al-Nachas, died in detention
in June 1997. The Government announced that he died of natural
While the authorities reserve the right to use exile and the revocation
of citizenship to punish individuals convicted or even suspected
of antigovernment activity, there were no reports of exile orders
issued during the year. In the past, the Government has revoked
the citizenship of persons it considered security threats. The
Government considers such persons to have forfeited their nationality
under the Citizenship Act of 1963 because they accepted foreign
citizenship or passports, or engaged in antigovernment activities
abroad. Bahraini emigre groups and their local contacts have challenged
this practice, arguing that the Government's revocation of citizenship
without due process violates the Constitution. According to the
emigre groups, as many as 500 citizens continue to live in exile.
This total includes both those prohibited from returning to Bahrain
and their family members who voluntarily live abroad with them.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however,
the courts are subject to government pressure regarding sentencing
The civil and criminal legal systems consist of a complex mix
of courts, based on diverse legal sources including Sunni and
Shi'a Shari'a (Islamic law), tribal law, and other civil codes
and regulations. The 1974 State Security Act created a separate,
closed security court system that has jurisdiction in cases of
alleged antigovernment activity.
The Bahrain Defense Force maintains a separate court system for
military personnel accused of offenses under the Military Code
of Justice. Military courts do not review cases involving civilian,
criminal, or security offenses.
Defense attorneys are appointed by the Ministry of Justice and
Islamic Affairs. Some attorneys and family members involved in
politically sensitive criminal cases complain that the Government
interferes with court proceedings to influence the outcome or
to prevent judgments from being carried out. There are periodic
allegations of corruption in the judicial system.
In past cases, the Amir, the Prime Minister, and other senior
Government officials all have lost civil cases brought against
them by private citizens. However, the court-ordered judgments,
are not always implemented expeditiously. Members of the ruling
Al-Khalifa family are well represented in the judiciary and generally
do not excuse themselves from cases involving the interests of
A person arrested may be tried in an ordinary criminal court or,
if recommended by the prosecution, in the Security Court. Ordinary
civil or criminal trial procedures provide for an open trial,
the right to counsel (with legal aid available when necessary),
and the right to appeal. Criminal court proceedings generally
do not appear to discriminate against women, children, or minority
groups. However, there is credible evidence that persons accused
of antigovernment crimes and tried in the criminal courts were
denied fair trials. The accused are not permitted to speak with
an attorney until their appearance before the judge at the preliminary
hearing. Trials in the criminal courts for antigovernment activities
are held in secret.
Security cases are tried in secret by judges on the Supreme Court
of Appeals, sitting as the Security Court. Family members usually
are not permitted in the court until the final verdict is rendered.
Procedures in the security courts do not provide for even the
most basic safeguards. The Security Court is exempt from adhering
to the procedural protections of the Penal Code. Defendants may
be represented by counsel but seldom see their attorneys before
the actual day of arraignment. Convictions may be based solely
on confessions and police evidence or on testimony that may be
introduced in secret. The defense cannot review the evidence against
the defendant prior to trial proceedings. Defense lawyers assert
that they rarely are given sufficient time to produce witnesses.
There is no right to judicial review of the legality of arrests.
There is no judicial appeal of a State Security Court verdict,
but the defendant may request clemency from the Amir. The Security
Court heard no cases during the year.
The number of political prisoners is difficult to determine because
the Government does not release data on security cases, such cases
are not tried in open court, and visits to prisoners convicted
of security offenses are restricted strictly. The Government denies
that there are any political prisoners, and claims that all inmates
incarcerated for committing security offenses were convicted properly
of subversive acts such as espionage, espousing or committing
violence, or belonging to terrorist organizations.
In accordance with tradition, the Government releases and grants
amnesty to some prisoners, including individuals imprisoned for
political activities, on major holidays. The Government pardoned
over 400 prisoners in April and May during Murharram and 209 in
December during the National Day celebrations.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Under the State Security Law, the Ministry of Interior may authorize
entry into private premises without specific judicial authority.
Telephone calls and correspondence are subject to monitoring.
Police informer networks are extensive and sophisticated.
During the year, the Government infringed on citizens' right to
privacy, using illegal searches and arbitrary arrests as tactics
to control political unrest, although there were fewer reports
of violation of citizens' rights to privacy than in recent years.
There were reports that security forces frequently raided villages
at night, entered private homes without warrants, and took into
custody residents who were suspected of either participating in,
or having information regarding, antigovernment activities. While
conducting these raids, security forces frequently confiscated,
damaged, or destroyed personal property, for which owners were
not compensated by the Government. Security forces also frequently
set up checkpoints at the entrances to villages, requiring vehicle
searches and proof of identity from anyone seeking to enter or
exit. Whenever possible the Government jams, either in whole or
in part, foreign broadcasts that carry antigovernment programming
or commentary. A government-controlled proxy prohibits user access
to Internet sites considered to be antigovernment or anti-Islamic
(see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although the Constitution provides for the right "to express
and propagate opinions," citizens are not in practice free
to express their public opposition to the Government in speech
or writing. Press criticism of ruling family personalities and
of government policy regarding certain sensitive subjects--such
as sectarian unrest and the dispute with Qatar over the Hawar
Islands--are strictly prohibited. However, local press coverage
and commentary on international issues is open, and discussion
of local economic and commercial issues also is relatively unrestricted.
Many individuals express critical opinions openly on domestic
political and social issues in private settings but do not do
so to leading government officials or in public forums.
The Information Ministry exercises extensive control over all
local media. Newspapers are privately owned, but they routinely
exercise self-censorship of stories on sensitive topics. The Government
does not condone unfavorable coverage of its domestic policies
by the international media and occasionally has revoked the press
credentials of offending journalists. Since the Ministry controls
foreign journalists' residence permits, unfavorable coverage may
lead to deportation. However, there were no reports of the Government
revoking press credentials during the year. The Government generally
afforded foreign journalists access to the country and did not
limit their contacts.
The State owns and operates all radio and television stations.
Radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi from neighboring
countries and Egypt can be received without interference. However,
international news services, including the Associated Press, United
Press International, and Agence France Presse, frequently complain
about press restrictions. The Cable News Network is available
on a 24-hour basis by subscription, and the British Broadcasting
Corporation world news service is carried on a local channel 24
hours a day free of charge. However, the Government generally
jams, wholly or partially, foreign broadcasts that carry antigovernment
programming or commentary (see Section l.f.).
Most senior government officials, ruling family members, and major
hotels use satellite dishes to receive international broadcasts,
as do well-to-do private citizens. Access to satellite dishes
and the importation or installation of dishes no longer require
prior government approval (see Section 3).
Access to the Internet is provided through the National Telephone
Company (BATELCO). A government-controlled proxy prohibits user
access to sites considered to be antigovernment or anti-Islamic;
e-mail access to information is unimpeded, although it may be
subject to monitoring (see Section l.f.).
Although there are no formal regulations limiting academic freedom,
in practice academics try to avoid contentious political issues.
University hiring and admissions policies appear to favor Sunnis
and others who are assumed to be supportive of the Government,
rather than focus on professional experience and academic qualifications.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Despite the Constitution's provision for the right of free assembly,
the Government prohibits all public political demonstrations and
meetings and controls religious gatherings that may take on political
overtones. Permits are required for most other public gatherings,
and permission is not granted routinely. Unauthorized public gatherings
of more than 5 persons are prohibited by law. The Government monitors
gatherings that might take on a political tone and frequently
disperses such meetings.
In July security forces used force to disperse a gathering during
which protesters denounced police brutality in the death of a
young Bahraini man (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.d.). After
the incident, suspected leaders and some active participants were
arrested. In October police detained up to 20 young men following
demonstrations against the Government for the death of a Shi'a
man who died from injuries he allegedly received when police detained
and tortured him in 1994 (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.).
The Constitution provides for the right of free association; however,
the Government this right. The Government prohibits political
parties and organizations. Some professional societies and social/sports
clubs traditionally have served as forums for discreet political
discussion, but they are restricted by law from engaging in political
activity. Only the Bahraini Bar Association is exempt from the
regulations that require that the constitutions of all associations
include a commitment to refrain from political activity. The Bar
Association successfully argued that a lawyer's professional duties
may require certain political actions, such as interpreting legislation
or participating in a politically sensitive trial. However, in
January after the Bar Association sponsored a lecture in which
prodemocracy speakers publicly attacked the Government, the Government
told current board members that they would not be allowed to stand
for reelection. Other organized discussions and meetings still
are discouraged actively.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion, and the population is overwhelmingly
Muslim. However, Christians and other non-Muslims, including Jews,
Hindus, and Baha'is are free to practice their religion, maintain
their own places of worship, and display the symbols of their
religion. Bibles and other Christian publications are displayed
and sold openly in local bookstores that also sell Islamic and
other religious literature. Some small groups worship in their
homes. Notable dignitaries from virtually every religion and denomination
visit the country and frequently meet with government and civic
leaders. Religious tracts of all Islamic sects, cassettes of sermons
delivered by Muslim preachers from other countries, and publications
of other religions are readily available.
Proselytizing by non-Muslims is discouraged, anti-Islamic writings
are prohibited, and conversions from Islam to other religions,
while not illegal, are not tolerated well by society.
Both Sunni and Shi'a are subject to governmental control and monitoring.
During the year, the Government closed a few mosques and ma'tams
(Shi'a community centers) in certain locations to prevent religious
leaders from delivering political speeches during their Friday
prayers and sermons. The High Council for Islamic Affairs is charged
with the review and approval of all clerical appointments within
both the Sunni and Shi'a communities, and maintains program oversight
for all citizens studying religion abroad. Public religious events,
most notably the large annual commemorative marches by Shi'a,
are permitted but are closely watched by the police. There are
no restrictions on the number of citizens permitted to make pilgrimages
to Shi'a shrines and holy sites in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. However,
stateless residents of Bahrain who do not possess Bahraini passports
often have difficulties arranging travel to religious sites abroad.
The Government monitors travel to Iran and scrutinizes carefully
those who choose to pursue religious study there.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
Citizens are free to move within the country and change their
place of residence or work. However, passports may be denied on
political grounds. Approximately 3 percent of the indigenous population,
the "bidoon," or stateless persons, mostly Persian-origin
Shi'a, do not have passports and cannot obtain them readily, although
they may be given travel documents as Bahraini residents (see
Section 5). The Government occasionally grants citizenship to
resident non-Bahrainis who are Sunni Muslims, mostly from the
Arabian Peninsula and Egypt.
Citizens living abroad who are suspected of political or criminal
offenses may face arrest and trial upon return to Bahrain. Under
the 1963 Citizenship Law, the Government may reject applications
to obtain or renew passports for reasonable cause, but the applicant
has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court.
The Government also has issued temporary passports, good for one
trip a year, to individuals whose travel it wishes to control
or whose claim to Bahraini nationality is questionable. Noncitizen
residents, including bidoon of Iranian origin, also may obtain
Bahraini laissez passers (travel documents), usually valid for
2 years and renewable at Bahraini embassies overseas. Laissez
passer holders also require visas to reenter Bahrain.
Bahrain does not usually accept refugees due to its small size
and limited resources. However, in practice refugees who arrive
in Bahrain are not repatriated to countries from which they have
fled. Many Iranian emigres who fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution
have been granted permission to remain in Bahrain, but they have
not been granted citizenship. Although the Government cooperates
with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the
maximum extent possible, it has not formulated a formal policy
regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Citizens do not have the right or ability peacefully to change
their government or their political system, and political activity
is controlled by the Government. Since the dissolution of the
National Assembly in 1975, there have been no formal democratic
political institutions. The Prime Minister makes all appointments
to the Cabinet. All other government positions are filled by the
relevant ministries. About one-third of the cabinet ministers
are Shi'a Muslim, although they may not hold security-related
offices. The Government views all dissent as terrorism, rejects
substantive reform as a threat to regime stability, and has taken
only halting steps to expand political participation. The ordinary
citizen may attempt to influence government decisions through
submission of personal written petitions and informal contact
with senior officials, including appeals to the Amir, the Prime
Minister, and other officials at their regularly scheduled public
audiences, called majlises.
In 1992 the Amir established by decree a Consultative Council
(Majlis Al-Shura). Its 40 members are divided evenly between Sunni
and Shi'a and are appointed by the Amir. They are selected to
represent major constituent groups, including representatives
from the business, labor, professional, and religious communities.
There are no members of the ruling Al-Khalifa family or religious
extremists in the Majlis. In addition to legislation submitted
for its review by the Cabinet, the Majlis may initiate debate
independently on nonpolitical issues. The Majlis also may summon
cabinet ministers to answer questions, but its recommendations
are not binding on the Government. The Majlis held its sixth session
from October 1997 to May and began a new session on October 6.
During the year, the Majlis debated a number of contentious social
and economic issues, including unemployment, privatization, and
provision of social services, and drafted proposals on these and
other issues for government consideration. According to the Speaker
of the Majlis, the Government responded favorably to the majority
of the Majlis' recommendations by incorporating them into legislation
or by taking other appropriate actions. During its sixth session,
the Majlis debated and approved a law permitting the private importation
and installation of satellite dishes.
There are no women in the Majlis or at the ministerial levels
of government. The majority of women who choose to work in government
do so in a support capacity, and only a few have attained senior
positions within their respective ministries or agencies.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no local human rights organizations. Because of the
restrictions on freedom of association and expression, any independent,
domestically based investigation or public criticism of the Government's
human rights policies faces major obstacles. Several political
opposition movements in exile also report on human rights investigations.
These include the Damascus-based Committee for the Defense of
Human Rights in Bahrain, the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement,
the Beirut-based Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain,
and the Copenhagen-based Bahrain Human Rights Organization, formerly
the Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain.
These groups are composed of small numbers of emigres living in
self-imposed exile and reportedly receive funding from sources
hostile to the Government.
The Government maintains that it is not opposed to visits by bona
fide human rights organizations. However, in practice international
human rights organizations have found it difficult to conduct
activities in the country. In October 1996, the Government invited
the ICRC to undertake visits to the country's prisons. The visits
continued throughout 1998 and, while the ICRC has maintained its
usual standards of confidentiality regarding its findings, credible
reports indicate that conditions throughout the penal system have
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution states that "liberty, equality, security,
tranquillity, education, social solidarity, and equal opportunities
for citizens shall be pillars of society assured by the State."
It further states that every citizen shall have the right to medical
care, welfare, education, property, capital, and work. However,
in practice these rights are protected unevenly, depending on
an individual's social status, ethnicity, or sex.
Violence against women occurs, but incidents are usually kept
within the family. In general there is little public attention
to, or discussion of, the prob;em. However, during the year a
few articles appeared for the first time in the local press discussing
violence against women and the need for laws to defend women who
are abused. No government policies explicitly address violence
against women. Women's groups and health care professionals state
that spousal abuse is common, particularly in poorer communities.
There are very few known instances of women seeking legal redress
for violence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the courts are
not receptive to such cases.
It is not uncommon for foreign women working as domestic workers
to be beaten or sexually abused. Numerous cases have been reported
to local embassies and the police. However, most victims are too
intimidated to sue their employers. Courts reportedly have allowed
victims who do appear to sue for damages, return home, or both.
Shari'a governs the legal rights of women. Specific rights vary
according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, and
are determined by the individual's faith, or by the court in which
various contracts, including marriage, have been made.
While both Shi'a and Sunni women have the right to initiate a
divorce, religious courts may refuse the request. Although local
religious courts may grant a divorce to Shi'a women in routine
cases, occasionally Shi'a women seeking divorce under unusual
circumstances must travel abroad to seek a higher ranking opinion
than that available in the country. Women of either sect may own
and inherit property and may represent themselves in all public
and legal matters. In the absence of a direct male heir, Shi'a
women may inherit all property whereas Sunni women inherit only
a portion, the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male
cousins of the deceased.
In divorce cases, the courts routinely grant Shi'a and Sunni women
custody of daughters under age 9 and sons under age 7, although
custody usually reverts to the father once the children reach
those ages. In all circumstances except mental incapacitation,
the father, regardless of custody, retains the right to make certain
legal decisions for his children, such as guardianship of any
property belonging to the child, until the child reaches legal
age. A noncitizen woman automatically loses custody of her children
if she divorces their citizen father.
Women may obtain passports and leave the country without the permission
of the male head of the household. Women are free to work outside
the home, to drive cars without escorts, and to wear the clothing
of their choice. Women also increasingly have taken jobs previously
reserved for men. The Labor Law does not discriminate against
women; however, in practice there is discrimination in the workplace,
including inequality of wages and denial of opportunity for advancement.
Women constitute over 20 percent of the work force. The Government
has encouraged the hiring of women by enacting special laws to
promote female entry into the work force, and is itself a leading
employer of women. The Labor Law does not recognize the concept
of equal pay for equal work, and women frequently are paid less
than men. Generally, women work outside the home during the years
between secondary school or university and marriage. Some women
complain that admissions policies at the National University are
aimed at increasing the number of male students at the expense
of qualified female applicants, especially Shi'a women. Nevertheless,
women make up the majority of students at the country's universities.
There are women's organizations that seek to improve the status
of women under both civil and Islamic law. Some women have expressed
the view that, despite their participation in the work force,
women's rights are not significantly advancing and that much of
the lack of progress is due to the influence of Islamic religious
traditionalists. However, other women, desire a return to more
traditional values and support calls for a return to traditional
Islamic patterns of social behavior.
The Government often has stated its commitment to the protection
of children's rights and welfare within the social and religious
framework of this traditional society. It honors this commitment
through enforcement of its civil and criminal laws and maintains
an extensive social welfare network. Public education for children
below the age of 15 is free. While the Constitution calls for
compulsory education at the primary levels, authorities do not
enforce attendance. Limited medical services for infants and preadolescents
are provided free of charge.
The social status of children is shaped by tradition and religion
to a greater extent than by civil law. Public discussion of child
abuse is rare, and the preference of the authorities always has
been to leave such matters within the purview of the family or
religious groups. The authorities actively enforce the laws against
prostitution, including child prostitution, procuring, and pimping.
Violators are dealt with harshly and can be imprisoned, or, if
a noncitizen, deported. In some cases, authorities reportedly
will return children arrested for prostitution and other nonpolitical
crimes to their families rather than prosecute them, especially
for first offenses. Some legal experts have called on the Government
to establish a separate juvenile court. However, other citizens
insist that the protection of children is a religious, not a secular,
function and oppose greater government involvement. Independent
and quasi-governmental organizations such as the Bahraini Society
for the Protection of Children and the Mother and Child Welfare
Society play an active part in protecting children by providing
counseling, legal assistance, advice, and, in some cases, shelter
and financial support to distressed children and families.
There were numerous arrests and detentions of juveniles during
the year in connection with the political unrest. These children
generally were released without charges within several days of
their arrests. However, those juveniles charged with security
offenses received the same treatment as adult prisoners, i.e.,
incommunicado detention and trial before a State Security Court.
People with Disabilities
The law protects the rights of people with disabilities and a
variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions
are mandated to support and protect disabled persons. The regional
(Arabian Gulf) Center for the Treatment of the Blind is headquartered
in Bahrain, and a similar Center for the Education of Deaf Children
was established in 1994. Society tends to view people with disabilities
as special cases in need of protection rather than as fully functioning
members of society. Nonetheless, the Government is required by
law to provide vocational training for disabled persons who wish
to work and maintains a list of certified, trained disabled persons.
The Labor Law of 1976 also requires that any employer of over
100 people must hire at least 2 percent of its employees from
the Government's list of disabled workers. The Ministry of Labor
and Social Affairs works actively to place people with disabilities
in public sector jobs, such as in the public telephone exchanges.
The Government's housing regulations require that access be provided
to disabled persons. Greater emphasis has been given in recent
years to public building design that incorporates access for the
disabled. However, the law does not mandate access to buildings
for persons with disabilities.
Although there are notable exceptions, the Sunni Muslim minority
enjoys a favored status. Sunnis receive preference for employment
in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks
of the civil service. Shi'a citizens are not allowed to hold significant
posts in the defense and internal security forces. In the private
sector, Shi'a tend to be employed in lower paid, less skilled
Educational, social, and municipal services in most Shi'a neighborhoods,
particularly in rural villages, are inferior to those found in
Sunni urban communities. In an effort to remedy social discrimination,
the Government has built numerous subsidized housing complexes,
which are open to all citizens on the basis of financial need.
In order to ease both the housing shortage and strains on the
national budget, in 1997 the Government revised its policy in
order to permit lending institutions to finance mortgages on apartment
A group of approximately 9,000 to 15,000 persons, mostly Shi'a
of Persian origin, but including some Christians, are stateless.
The bidoon enjoy less than full citizenship under the Citizenship
Act of 1963. Many are second- or third-generation residents whose
ancestors emigrated from Iran. Although they no longer claim Iranian
citizenship, they have not been granted Bahraini citizenship.
Without citizenship these individuals officially are unable to
buy land, start a business, or obtain government loans, although
in practice many do. The law does not address the citizenship
rights of persons who were not registered with the authorities
prior to 1959, creating a legal problem for such persons and their
descendants and resulting in economic and other hardships. The
Government maintains that many of those who claim to be bidoon
are actually citizens of Iran or other Gulf states who voluntarily
have chosen not to renew their foreign passports. Bidoon and citizens
who speak Farsi, rather than Arabic, as their first language,
also face significant social and economic obstacles, including
difficulty finding employment.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The partially suspended 1973 Constitution recognizes the right
of workers to organize, but internationally affiliated trade unions
do not exist. The Constitution provides for "freedom to form
associations and trade unions on national bases and for lawful
objectives and by peaceful means," in accordance with the
law, and states that "no person shall be compelled to join
or remain in any association or union."
In response to labor unrest in the mid-1950's, 1965, and 1974,
the Government passed a series of labor regulations that allow
the formation of elected workers' committees in larger companies.
Worker representation is based on a system of Joint Labor-Management
Committees (JLC's) established by ministerial decree. Between
1981 and 1984, 12 JLC's were established in the major state-owned
industries. Four new JLC's were established in 1994 in the private
sector, including one in a major hotel. In September three more
JLC's were created, bringing the total to 19.
The JLC's are composed of equal numbers of appointed management
representatives and worker representatives elected by company
employees. Each committee is chaired alternately by the management
and worker representative. The selection of worker representatives
appears to be fair. Under the law, the Ministry of Interior may
exclude worker candidates with criminal records or those deemed
a threat to national security.
The elected labor representatives of the JLC's select the 11 members
of the General Committee of Bahrain Workers (GCBW), established
in 1983 by law, which oversees and coordinates the work of the
JLC's. The Committee also hears complaints from Bahraini and foreign
workers and assists them in bringing their complaints to the attention
of the Ministry of Labor or the courts. In March elections were
held for 3-year terms for representatives to the GCBW. Workers
from a variety of occupations were elected to the body, including
Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, foreign workers, and one woman. These
elections, which were held by secret ballot, appeared to be free
Although the Government and company management are not represented
on the GCBW, the Ministry of Labor closely monitors the body's
activities. It approves the GCBW's rules and the distribution
of GCBW funds. The JLC-GCBW system represents nearly 70 percent
of the island's indigenous industrial workers, although both Government
and labor representatives readily admit that nonindustrial workers
and foreign workers clearly are underrepresented in the system.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs supports the formation
of JLC's in all public and private sector companies that employ
more than 200 workers.
Although foreign workers constitute 67 percent of the work force,
they are underrepresented in the GCBW. Foreign workers can and
do participate in the JLC elections, and five foreign workers
currently serve on JLC's. However, none sits on the board of the
GCBW. It is a long-term goal of both the Government and the GCBW
to replace foreign workers with citizens throughout all sectors
of the economy and to create new jobs for citizens seeking employment.
The Labor Law is silent on the right to strike, and there were
no strikes during the year. Actions perceived to be detrimental
to the "existing relationship" between employers and
employees or to the economic health of the State are forbidden
by the 1974 Security Act. There are no recent examples of major
strikes, but walkouts and other job actions have been known to
occur without governmental intervention and with positive results
for the workers.
The GCBW represents workers in the Arab Labor Organization but
does not belong to any international trade union organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
As in the case of strikes, the Labor Law neither grants nor denies
workers the right to organize and bargain collectively outside
the JLC system. While the JLC's are empowered to discuss labor
disputes, organize workers' services, and discuss wages, working
conditions, and productivity, workers have no independent, recognized
vehicle for representing their interests on these or other labor-related
issues. Minimum wage rates for public sector employees are established
by government decrees. Private businesses generally follow the
Government's lead in establishing their wage rates.
There are two export processing zones. Labor law and practice
are the same in these zones as in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law. In practice,
the labor laws apply for the most part only to citizens; however,
abuses occur, particularly of domestic workers and those working
illegally. In some cases, workers arrive in Bahrain under the
sponsorship of an employer and then switch jobs, while continuing
to pay a fee to their original sponsor. The Government has announced
its intention to abolish this illegal practice, which makes it
difficult to monitor and control the employment conditions of
domestic and other workers. However, no substantive action had
yet been taken by year's end.
Labor Law amendments passed in 1993 stiffened the penalties for
job switching to include jail sentences of up to 6 months for
the sponsor of every illegally sponsored worker. In such cases,
the workers involved are likely to be deported as illegal immigrants
after the case is concluded. During the summer and fall, the Government
conducted an amnesty program under which undocumented foreign
workers were permitted either to legalize their status or leave
the country without penalty. As many as 38,000 workers opted to
participate in the amnesty program.
The sponsorship system leads to other abuses as well. There are
numerous reports that employers withhold salaries from their foreign
workers for months, even years, at a time, and may refuse to grant
them the necessary permission to leave the country. The Government
and the courts generally work to rectify those abuses brought
to their attention, but the fear of deportation or employer retaliation
prevents many foreign workers from making complaints to the authorities.
Labor laws do not apply to domestic servants. There are credible
reports that domestic servants, especially women, sometimes are
forced to work 12- to 16-hour days, given little time off, and
are subjected to verbal and physical abuse.
The law also prohibits force and bonded child labor, and the Government
enforces this prohibition effectively.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 14 years of age. Juveniles between
the ages of 14 and 16 may not be employed in hazardous conditions
or at night and may not work more than 6 hours per day or on a
piecemeal basis. Child labor laws are effectively enforced by
Ministry of Labor inspectors in the industrial sector; child labor
outside that sector is less well monitored but is not believed
to be significant outside family operated businesses, although
some children work in the market areas as car washers and porters.
The law prohibits forced and bonded child labor, and the Government
enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.). While
the Constitution calls for compulsory education at the primary
levels, authorities do not enforce attendance (see Section 5).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wage scales, set by government decree, exist for public
sector employees and generally afford a decent standard of living
for workers and their families. The minimum wage for the public
sector is $278.25 (105 dinars) per month. Wages in the private
sector are determined on a contract basis. For foreign workers,
employers consider benefits such as annual trips home, and housing
and education bonuses as part of the salary.
The Labor Law, enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs,
mandates acceptable conditions of work for all adult workers,
including adequate standards regarding hours of work (maximum
48 hours per week) and occupational safety and health.
The Ministry enforces the law with periodic inspections and fines
routinely imposed on violators. The press often performs an ombudsman
function on labor problems, reporting job disputes and the results
of labor cases brought before the courts. Once a complaint has
been lodged by a worker, the Ministry of Labor opens an investigation
and often takes remedial action. The Fourth High Court has jurisdiction
over cases involving alleged violations of the Labor Law.
Complaints brought before the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
that cannot be settled through arbitration must, by law, be referred
to the court within 15 days. In practice most employers prefer
to settle such disputes through arbitration, particularly since
the court and labor law generally are considered to favor the
The Labor Law specifically favors citizens over foreign workers,
and Arab foreigners over other foreign workers, in hiring and
firing. Because employers include housing and other allowances
in their salary scales, foreign workers legally can be paid lower
regular wages than their citizen counterparts, although they sometimes
receive the same or a greater total compensation package because
of home leave and holiday allowances. Western foreign workers
and citizen workers are paid comparable wages, with total compensation
packages often significantly greater for the former. Women are
entitled to 60 days of paid maternity leave and nursing periods
during the day. However, women generally are paid less than men.
In 1993 the Government strengthened the Labor Law, by decree of
the Amir, announcing that significant fines and jail sentences
would be imposed upon private-sector employers who fail to pay
legal wages. This law applies equally to employers of citizens
and foreign workers and is intended to reduce abuses against foreign
workers who sometimes have been denied legal salaries (see Section
6.c.). The law provides equal protection to citizen and foreign
workers, but all foreign workers still require sponsorship by
citizens or locally-based institutions and companies. According
to representatives of several embassies with large numbers of
workers in the country, the Government generally is responsive
to embassy requests to investigate foreign guest worker complaints
about unpaid wages and mistreatment. However, foreign workers,
particularly those from developing countries, often are unwilling
to report abuses for fear of losing residence rights and having
to return to their native countries. Sponsors are able to cancel
the residence permit of any person under their sponsorship and
thereby block them for 1 year from obtaining entry or residence
visas from another sponsor, although the sponsor may be subject
to sanctions for wrongful dismissal.
Under the labor law, workers have the right to remove themselves
from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their continued
Source: U.S. State Department.