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Title:  Bahrain Human Rights Practices, 1995  
Author:  U.S. Department of State   
Date:  March 1996   
 
 
 
 
 
                               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, Shaykh Isa Bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, governs Bahrain with the 
assistance of a younger brother, the Prime Minister; the Amir's son, the 
Crown Prince; and an appointed cabinet of ministers.  In 1975 the 
Government suspended some provisions of Bahrain's 1973 Constitution, 
including those articles relating to the National Assembly, which the 
Government disbanded in the same year.  There are few judicial checks on 
the actions of the Amir and his government.  Social ties and 
interpersonal associations are important and are formed in a complex web 
of family, tribal, economic, and religious affiliations.  Bahrainis 
belong to the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam, with the Shi'a comprising 
over two-thirds of the indigenous population.  There are important 
sectarian and ethnic divisions among the Shi'a.  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. 
 
The Ministry of Interior is responsible for public security.  Under its 
auspices, the Public Security Force (police) and the extensive Security 
Service are responsible for maintaining internal order.  The Bahrain 
Defense Force (BDF) defends against external military threats.  It did 
not play an active role in internal security in 1995. 
 
Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government domination of many basic 
industries, including the important oil and aluminum industries.  
Possessing limited oil and natural gas reserves, Bahrain is intensifying 
efforts to diversify its economic base and has attracted companies doing 
business in banking, financial services, oilfield services, and light 
manufacturing.  The Government has used its modest oil revenues to build 
an advanced transportation and telecommunications infrastructure.  
Bahrain has become a regional financial and business center.  Tourism, 
particularly via the causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, is also a 
significant source of income. 
 
The main human rights problems continue to include the denial of the 
right of citizens to change their government; the practice of arbitrary 
and incommunicado detention and involuntary exile; the use of torture; 
the absence of impartial inspection of detention and prison facilities; 
restrictions on the right to a fair public trial, especially in the 
security court; and restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, 
association, and worker rights.  Domestic violence against women is a 
problem. 
 
Governmental human rights abuses increased in 1995.  The security forces 
committed numerous serious abuses.  In the first half of 1995, domestic 
unrest by Shi'a Muslim youths, committing hundreds of acts of arson, 
resulted in the deaths of 11 people, including 7 demonstrators, 2 
policemen, and 2 expatriate laborers, and the arrest of more than 2,700 
people during that period, almost all for committing acts of violence 
during demonstrations.  In keeping with tradition, on the March Eid Al-
Fitr holiday the Government released by Amiri decree 
175 prisoners, including several self-described political detainees.  
Another 2,000 were released during the course of the year.  The 
Government rejected the demand of Shi'a demonstrators for a restoration 
of the elected parliament. 
 
The appointive Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura), established by 
Amiri decree in 1992, completed its third session on May 29 and began 
its fourth session on October 1. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
While trying to control arson attacks and other civil disturbances 
during the first half of the year, police and security forces killed 7 
demonstrators.  In one case, the police may have beaten a boy to death.  
Four of the deaths occurred when police used force on crowds of 
antigovernment demonstrators.  On January 12, an unidentified man was 
killed in the village of Diraz after police opened fire on 
demonstrators.  On January 26, Hani Ali Al-Safi was shot and killed 
during a similar confrontation with police in the village of Sitra.  
Also on January 26, Abdul Ridha Mansur Al-Hajji died of injuries 
sustained 10 days earlier in a demonstration that was broken up by 
police in the village of Bani Jamrah.  An unidentified man was shot and 
killed by security forces during another demonstration in Bani Jamrah on 
April 1.  On May 4, Nidal Habib Al-Nashabah reportedly was shot and 
killed by security forces during a demonstration in Diraz.  On May 24, a 
10-year-old boy, Muhammad Shihab Al-Fardan, from the village of 
Karzakkan, died under suspicious circumstances.  Opposition press 
releases claim that the boy was arrested, tortured, and killed by 
security forces.  The Government, however, stated publicly that the boy 
died after falling from a building that was under construction.  On July 
9, a 15-year-old boy died in police custody reportedly after being 
beaten during interrogation at the police station in the village of 
Khamis. 
 
To date, no police or security forces officials have been prosecuted for 
these offenses. 
 
Two police officers were killed by demonstrators.  On March 22, Ibrahim 
Rashid Abdul Karim Al-Saidi was murdered by a group of protestors near 
his home in the village of Nuwaidrat.  A second policeman was killed in 
the village of Sitra in April when demonstrators threw a molotov 
cocktail into his vehicle. 
 
Two expatriate laborers were killed after being trapped in buildings 
that had been set ablaze by demonstrators. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment is prohibited 
by law.  There are, however, credible reports of torture being used 
against prisoners.  Local human rights activists report that prisoners 
routinely 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 subjected to electric shock. 
 
The Government denies that torture takes place.  However, it has not 
implemented minimal procedural safeguards, nor allowed inspection of 
detention facilities by impartial international organizations.  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 human 
rights abuses committed either in 1995 or in previous years. 
 
Although little is known about Bahrain's prisons, prison conditions do 
not appear to pose any threat to the health of those detained.  The 
authorities severely restrict visits to inmates.  Nonetheless, prisoners 
have regular access to medical care and may receive visits from family 
members, usually once a month.   
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
Under the State Security Act of 1974, 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.  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 original detention. 
 
Government security forces used the State Security Law regularly to 
detain persons engaging in antiregime activities, and those attempting 
to exercise their rights of free speech, association, or other rights in 
opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime.  Security forces are believed to 
have held approximately 2,700 people in detention in 1995, including 
some who were arrested, released, and then arrested again.  In many 
cases, the suspects were released with a warning.  About 50 were tried 
in the Security Court; fewer than 750 were tried in criminal courts, and 
the remainder were released without charge.  Under proceedings used by 
the Criminal Court, police may detain a suspect for up to 7 days of 
questioning before filing charges. 
 
Activities that lead to detention, questioning, warning, or arrest 
include:  membership in illegal organizations or those deemed 
subversive; painting antiregime slogans on walls; joining antigovernment 
demonstrations; possessing or circulating antiregime writings; preaching 
sermons with a distinct antiregime political tone; and harboring or 
associating with persons committing such acts.  Of those detained for 
more than a few days, most were held for committing illegal or violent 
acts in the course of a demonstration--i.e., skirmishing with police, 
breaking windows, damaging cars or other property, burning electrical 
substations, tires, cars, palm groves, banks, stores, schools, sports 
clubs, furniture, and auto showrooms--rather than for exercising their 
rights of free expression. 
 
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 investigatory 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. 
 
Authorities continue to use exile and the revocation of citizenship to 
punish individuals suspected of, or convicted of, antiregime activity.  
Four deportations took place in 1995.  The Government deported Shaykh 
Ali Salman Ahmed Salman, Shaykh Hamza Al-Sitri and Shaykh Haydar Al-
Sitri to the United Arab Emirates on January 15.  They traveled onward 
to London the next day.  Shaykh Adel Al-Sho'ala was deported on January 
18.  He is believed to be in Damascus.  The Government reportedly 
deported these four clerics because they instigated an attack on a 
charity marathon in November 1994 in which several participants were 
beaten and stoned, and because they encouraged antigovernment rioting. 
 
In the past, the Government has revoked the citizenship of nationals who 
are considered security threats.  The Government considers these 
individuals to have forfeited their nationality under the Citizenship 
Act of 1963 because they accepted foreign citizenship or passports, or 
engaged in antiregime 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 
Bahrain's 1973 Constitution.  According to the emigre groups, as many as 
500 Bahrainis continue to live in exile.  This figure 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, as well as an 
appellate system for review of lower court decisions.  In practice, 
however, the courts are frequently subject to government pressure 
regarding sentencing and appeals. 
 
A person arrested may be tried in an ordinary criminal court or, if 
required by the prosecution, in the Security Court.  Ordinary civil or 
criminal trials provide procedural guarantees for an open trial, the 
right to counsel (with legal aid available when necessary), and the 
right to appeal.  There is widespread, credible evidence that persons 
accused of antigovernment crimes and tried in the criminal courts were 
denied fair trials.  For example, the accused were not permitted to 
speak with an attorney until their appearance before the judge at the 
preliminary hearing.  Trials in the criminal courts for antiregime 
activities were held in secret. 
 
Security cases are tried by the Supreme Court of Appeal, sitting as the 
Security Court.  Procedures in the Security Court do not provide 
adequate safeguards.  For example, the Security Court is exempted from 
adhering to the procedural guarantees of the Penal Code.  Defendants may 
be represented by counsel, but proceedings are held in secret, and there 
is no right to judicial review of the legality of arrests.  Convictions 
may be based solely on confessions and evidence may be introduced in 
secret.  There is no judicial appeal of a State Security Court verdict, 
but the defendant may request clemency from the Amir.  The accused 
normally is tried in the Security Court at the discretion of the 
prosecutor, but in 1995 the Security Court rejected jurisdiction in some 
cases and remanded the cases to the criminal courts.  Defense attorneys 
are appointed by the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. 
 
Criminal court proceedings generally do not appear to discriminate 
against women, children, or minority groups.  Some attorneys and family 
members involved in politically sensitive criminal cases complained that 
the Government can and has interfered with court proceedings to 
influence the outcome or to prevent judgments from being carried out.  
Allegations of corruption in the judicial system have also been made 
from time to time, although this does not appear to be a pervasive 
problem.  In past cases, the Amir, the Prime Minister, and other senior 
Government officials have all lost civil cases brought against them by 
private citizens.  The courts ordered these judgments to be carried out. 
 
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. 
 
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 severely restricted.  The Government denies that there are 
any political prisoners, claiming that all inmates incarcerated for 
committing security offenses were properly convicted of criminal acts 
such as espionage, espousing or committing violence, or belonging to 
terrorist organizations. 
 
In accordance with tradition, the Government continued to release and 
grant amnesty to prisoners, including self-declared political prisoners, 
on major holidays.  In 1995 the Government released 175 prisoners in 
March during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.  Throughout the course of the 
year, an additional 2,000 were released, and most were pardoned by Amiri 
decree. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
Under the law, the Ministry of Interior is empowered to authorize entry 
into private premises without specific judicial intervention.  Domestic 
and international telephone calls and correspondence are subject to 
monitoring.  Police informer networks are extensive and sophisticated. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
While the Constitution provides for the right "to express and propagate 
opinions," Bahrainis are not, in practice, free to express public 
opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime 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 is also 
relatively unrestricted.  In practice there are few if any restrictions 
on the discussion of political and economic issues in private settings 
or in places of worship, provided these discussions do not spill over 
into public fora. 
 
The Information Ministry exercises sweeping control over all local 
media.  Bahrain's newspapers are privately owned but routinely exercise 
self-censorship of stories on sensitive topics.  There was no coverage 
of domestic unrest, for example, for approximately the first 4 months of 
the disturbances.  The Government does not condone unfavorable coverage 
of its domestic policies by the international media and has occasionally 
revoked the press credentials of offending journalists.  Since the 
Ministry also sponsors foreign journalists' residence permits, this 
action can lead to deportation.  There were no reports of journalists' 
deportations, but the Government did tighten restrictions on reporters 
at the height of the unrest.  For example, Ahmed Shamlan, a local 
columnist and attorney, was suspended from his job after he signed a 
petition calling for a return to parliamentary democracy. 
 
Two American journalists were denied entry visas at the height of the 
disturbances in the spring (one of the two later entered on a tourist 
visa), and two more received visas only after foreign diplomatic 
intervention.  International news services, including AP, UPI, and AFP, 
frequently complain about press restrictions.  In March Canal France 
Internationale, the French-language cable television station, was taken 
off the air for several weeks because of government anger over the 
French media's coverage of the demonstrations. 
 
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.  Cable News Network has 
been provided without censorship for 1 hour a day on a local television 
channel since 1991, and is also available on a 24-hour basis by 
subscription.  The British Broadcasting Corporation's world news service 
is carried on a local channel 24 hours a day free of charge and 
uncensored. 
 
Many senior government officials, ruling family members, and major 
hotels use satellite dishes to receive international broadcasts, as do 
well-to-do private citizens.  The Ministry of Information closely 
controls access to satellite dishes, and the importation or installation 
of dishes without prior government approval is illegal. 
 
Although there are no formal regulations limiting academic freedom, as a 
practical matter academics try to avoid contentious political issues.  
In general, there is greater latitude to discuss politics in an academic 
setting.  Nevertheless, strict limits are observed, and research, 
publications, and public discussions critical of the Government are 
highly infrequent. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
Despite the Constitution's affirmation of the right of free assembly, 
the Government prohibits all public political demonstrations and 
meetings, and controls religious gatherings that may take on political 
overtones.  Unauthorized public gatherings of more than five persons are 
prohibited by law.  The Government monitors gatherings that might take 
on a political tone, and frequently disperses such meetings. 
 
On dozens of occasions from January through August the security forces 
used tear gas, rubber bullets, and occasionally, live ammunition to 
disperse gatherings during which protesters called for the 
reestablishment of an elected parliament and the release of prisoners; 
objected to Al-Khalifa rule, denounced police brutality; protested over 
foreigners in the security forces and in the labor force; and demanded 
increased employment opportunities.  After each of these incidents, 
suspected leaders and active participants were arrested, generally for 
participating in or inciting violence.  At the height of the 
disturbances, approximately 2,000 people were being held in detention.  
At year's end, an estimated 261 people remained in detention. 
 
The Government prohibits political parties and organizations.  Some 
professional societies and social/sports clubs have traditionally served 
as forums for discreet political discussions, but they are restricted by 
law from engaging in political activity.  Only the Bahraini Bar 
Association has been granted an exemption to the regulation requiring 
all associations to state in their constitution that they will 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.  Other organized discussions and meetings are still 
actively discouraged.  Permits are required for most public gatherings, 
and permission is not routinely granted. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The population is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Islam is the state 
religion.  However, Christians and other non-Muslims, including Jews, 
Hindus, and Baha'is are free to practice their religion and maintain 
their own places of worship.  Bibles and other Christian publications 
are displayed and sold openly in local bookshops, which also sell 
Islamic and other religious literature. 
 
Adherents of faiths other than Islam maintain places of worship and may 
display the symbols of their religion.  Some small groups worship in 
their homes.  Notables from virtually every religion and denomination 
visit Bahrain 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 prohibited, and conversions from 
Islam to other religions, while not illegal, are not tolerated by 
society. 
 
Both Sunni and Shi'a sects are subject to governmental control and 
monitoring, but there is no interference with routine worship, 
preaching, religious courts, Islamic charitable foundations, mosque 
construction, religious education, or other religious activities.  
Public religious events, most notably the large annual commemorative 
marches by Bahraini Shi'a, are permitted but are closely watched by the 
police.  There are no restrictions on the number of Bahrainis permitted 
to make pilgrimages to Shi'a shrines and holy sites in Iran, Iraq, and 
Syria; however, owing to conditions in Iraq, very few Bahrainis make 
pilgrimages there.  Religious study in and pilgrimages to Iran were 
strongly discouraged in the past.  Although the Government continues to 
monitor travel to Iran and scrutinizes carefully those who choose to 
pursue religious study there, travel to Iran for pilgrimages, business 
trips, tourism, and family visits is common. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
Citizens are free to move within the country and change their place of 
residence or work.  Passports, however, may be denied on political 
grounds.  Approximately 3 percent of the indigenous population, mostly 
Persian-origin Shi'a, do not have passports and cannot readily obtain 
them, although they may be issued travel documents as Bahraini residents 
(see Section 5).  About 150 Sunni "bidoon" or stateless persons, mostly 
from the Arabian Peninsula, were granted citizenship in 1995, and about 
15 Egyptian citizens resident in Bahrain also received citizenship. 
 
Bahrainis 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 has also issued "temporary passports," good for one trip 
within a year, to individuals whose travel it wishes to control or whose 
claim to Bahraini nationality is questionable.  Non-citizen residents, 
including bidoon of Iranian origin, may also obtain Bahraini "laissez 
passers" (temporary passports), 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.  In practice, however, 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. 
 
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 strictly 
controlled by the Government.  Since the dissolution of the National 
Assembly in 1975, there have been no formal democratic political 
institutions.  The Government permits neither political parties nor 
opposition organizations.  The Prime Minister, Shaykh Khalifa Bin Sulman 
Al-Khalifa, 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 do not hold security-
related offices.  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 Government established an appointed 30-member Consultative 
Council, known as the Majlis Al-Shura.  The Majlis held its third 
session from October 1994 to May 1995, and began its fourth session in 
October.  The members of the Majlis are evenly divided 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 in the Majlis, and religious "extremists" 
are conspicuously absent.  The chairman is a prominent Shi'a who 
formerly was Minister of Transport and Communications. 
 
The Majlis debates issues and may summon Cabinet ministers to answer 
questions.  However, it does not have the power to introduce 
legislation, nor can it request to review legislation that the Cabinet 
has not referred to it.  When asked to review proposed legislation, the 
Majlis may recommend changes, but the recommendations are not binding. 
 
In 1995 the Majlis debated a number of contentious social and economic 
issues, including unemployment, labor policy, and education, drafting 
proposals on these and other subjects for government consideration.  
According to the Speaker of the Majlis, the Government responded 
positively to about "85 percent" of the Majlis's recommendations by 
incorporating them into legislation or by taking other appropriate 
actions.  Although the Government views the Majlis as solely an advisory 
body, the Government in September promised more powers and scope to the 
fourth session. 
 
A petition, written in 1994, calling on the Amir to reinstate the former 
National Assembly, or to allow elections for a new one, continued to 
circulate in 1995.  The petition reportedly has more than 20,000 
signatures.  Despite opposition charges to the contrary, there is no 
evidence that the Government has arrested anyone for signing or 
circulating the petition. 
 
During the year, one of the original 14 signers, Sa'id Abdulla Asbool, 
lost his job at the Ministry of Works, Power, and Water, reportedly for 
circulating the petition at the Ministry during work hours.  There are 
reports that other employees have lost their government jobs for 
participating in the petition drive.  Ahmed Shamlan, a local newspaper 
columnist, was reportedly suspended from his job for signing the 
petition, and a doctor at Salmaniyah Hospital was stripped of his 
department chairmanship, but retained his job.  Other signers, like 
Munira Fakhro, a member of the University of Bahrain faculty, were 
dismissed from their positions.  Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, a prominent Shi'a 
cleric, longtime opposition activist, and one of the petition's original 
signers, was placed under house arrest on April 1, where he remained 
until his release on September 25.  Al-Jamri is accused of committing a 
wide variety of security-related crimes. 
 
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.  A number of groups based 
abroad claim to report on Bahraini human rights violations.  These 
include the Damascus-based "Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in 
Bahrain," the London-based "Bahrain Freedom Movement," and "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 Al-Khalifa regime.  They are viewed 
by many local observers as espousing a political, rather than a purely 
human rights, agenda. 
 
The Government maintains that it is "not opposed" to visits "in good 
faith" by "bona fide human rights organizations," and has engaged in 
dialogue with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and 
Amnesty International (AI).  In practice, however, international human 
rights organizations have found it difficult to conduct activities in 
Bahrain.  By the end of the year, the Government had not agreed to 
requests by ICRC and AI for unconditional visits. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution states that "liberty, equality, security, tranquility, 
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, welfare, education, 
property, capital, and work.  In practice, these rights are unevenly 
upheld, depending on the individual's social status, ethnicity, or sex. 
 
   Women 
 
Violence against women is known to occur, but knowledge of incidents is 
usually kept within the family.  In general, there is little public 
attention to, or discussion of, violence against women.  No government 
policies explicitly address violence against women.  Women's groups and 
health care professionals state that spouse abuse is relatively common, 
particularly in poorer communities.  There are very few known instances 
of Bahraini women seeking legal redress for violence.  Anecdotal 
evidence suggests that the courts are not receptive to such cases. 
 
Cases of foreign women working as domestic servants who have been beaten 
or sexually abused by their employers have been reported to local 
embassies and the police.  Most victims are too intimidated to sue their 
employers.  Those who do appear to be received sympathetically in the 
courts. 
 
Islamic law (Shari'a) governs the legal rights of women.  Specific 
rights vary according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, 
as 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 outside of Bahrain.  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; in contrast, Sunni women--in the absence of a direct male 
heir--inherit only a portion; the balance is divided among uncles and 
male cousins of the deceased. 
 
In the event of divorce, the courts routinely grant Shi'a and Sunni 
women custody of daughters under the age of 9 and sons under age 7, 
although custody usually reverts to the father once the children reach 
those respective 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 non-Bahraini woman automatically loses custody of her children if she 
divorces their Bahraini father.  Women may obtain passports and leave 
the country without the permission of the male head of the household.  
Bahraini women are free to work outside the home, to drive cars without 
escorts, and to wear the clothing of their choice (a large percentage 
wear western dress outside the home), and have increasingly taken jobs 
previously reserved for men. 
 
Labor law does not discriminate against women; however, some women's 
groups complain about informal 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, enacted special laws to promote female 
entry into the work force, and is a leading employer of women.  Labor 
law does not recognize the concept of equal pay for equal work, and 
women are generally paid less than men.  Generally, women work outside 
the home during the years between secondary school or university and 
marriage.  Women make up the majority of students at Bahrain's 
universities.  There are women's organizations which seek to improve the 
status of women under both civil and Islamic law. 
 
Increasingly some women have expressed the view that, despite their 
participation in the work force, women are not significantly advancing 
their rights and that much of their lack of progress is due to the 
influence of Islamic religious traditionalists.  Other women, however, 
desire a return to more traditional religious values and support calls 
for a return to Islamic patterns of social behavior. 
 
   Children 
 
The Government has often stated its commitment to the protection of 
children's human 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 an extensive 
social welfare network. 
 
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 has always 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 non-Bahraini, deported.  In some 
cases, authorities reportedly will return children arrested for 
prostitution and other crimes to their families rather than prosecute 
them, especially for first offenses.  Juvenile cases currently are heard 
in the regular courts 1 day a week.  Some legal experts have called on 
the Government to establish a separate juvenile court. 
 
Other Bahrainis, however, insist that the protection of children is a 
religious, not a secular, function and oppose greater government 
involvement.  Independent and quasigovernmental 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 and advice, and, in some cases, 
shelter and financial support to distressed children and families. 
 
As many as 200 juveniles were detained or arrested during civil 
disturbances in 1995.  Juveniles received the same treatment as adult 
prisoners, but were released before other detainees.  At year's end, 
there were no reports of any juveniles in detention for crimes allegedly 
committed during the unrest. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
Bahraini law protects the rights of people with disabilities, and a 
variety of governmental, quasigovernmental, 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.  Bahraini 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 wishing to 
work and maintains a list of certified, trained disabled persons.  The 
Labor Law of 1976 also requires that any employer employing over 100 
people must engage 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.  Most large public buildings are equipped with ramps 
and other aids which make them accessible to disabled persons. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
Although there are notable exceptions, the Sunni Muslim minority enjoys 
a favored status in Bahrain.  Sunnis generally receive preference for 
employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks 
of the civil service.  Shi'a Bahrainis are not allowed to hold 
significant posts in the Bahrain defense and internal security forces.  
On the other hand, Shi'a Muslims occupy most of the senior positions in 
the major government-owned industries.  They are also disproportionately 
represented in the educational sphere as secondary school teachers, 
professors, and university administrators.  In general, however, 
employment opportunities for Shi'a are more restricted than for Sunnis, 
and Shi'a tend to be employed in lower paid, less skilled jobs. 
 
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, improve 
living conditions for the Shi'a, and encourage integration, the 
Government has built numerous subsidized housing complexes open to all 
citizens on the basis of financial need. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
A group of approximately 9,000 to 15,000 mostly Persian-origin Shi'a are 
stateless.  They are commonly known as bidoon and enjoy less than full 
citizenship.  Under the Citizenship Act of 1963, many of the bidoon are 
second or third generation residents whose ancestors emigrated from 
Iran.  Although they no longer claim Iranian citizenship, they have not 
been granted Bahraini nationality.  Without citizenship these 
individuals are officially 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 Bahraini 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 have voluntarily chosen not to renew their foreign passports.  
Bidoon and Bahrainis who speak Farsi, rather than Arabic, as their first 
language also face significant social and economic obstacles, including 
difficulty finding employment. 
 
Section 6   Workers Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The partially suspended 1973 Constitution recognizes the right of 
workers to organize, but trade unions do not exist in Bahrain, and the 
Government does not encourage their formation.  Article 27 of the 
Constitution states: "freedom to form associations and trade unions on 
national bases and for lawful objectives and by peaceful means shall be 
guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and in the manner 
prescribed by the law.  No person shall be compelled to join or remain 
in any association or union." 
 
In response to labor unrest in the mid-1950's and in 1965 and 1974, the 
Government passed a series of labor regulations which, among other 
things, allow the formation of elected workers' committees in larger 
companies.  Worker representation today 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.  In 1994 four new JLC's were established in the 
private sector, including one in a major hotel. 
 
In 1995 elections were held for representatives to the General Committee 
of Bahrain Workers (GCBW), which oversees the activities of the JLC's.  
Workers from all walks of life were elected to the body in 1995, 
including Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, expatriates, and, for the first time, 
a woman.  These elections, which appeared to be free and by secret 
ballot, were carried out during the worst of the demonstrations.  The 
Government is considering the further expansion of the JLC system into 
the tourism and banking sectors. 
 
The JLC's are composed of equal numbers of appointed management 
representatives and worker representatives elected from and 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 Bahraini 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.  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 expatriates 
are clearly underrepresented in the system.  The Ministry of Labor and 
Social Affairs has publicly urged the formation of JLC's in all public 
and private sector companies employing more than 200 workers.  Although 
67 percent of the work force is comprised of expatriate workers, 
expatriates are underrepresented in the GCBW.  Expatriate workers can 
and do participate in JLC elections, and five expatriates currently 
serve on JLC's.  None, however, currently sit on the board of the GCBW.  
It is a longterm goal of both the Government and the GCBW to replace 
expatriate workers with Bahrainis throughout all sectors of the economy 
and to create new jobs for Bahrainis seeking employment. 
 
The Labor Law is silent on the right to strike, and there were no 
strikes in 1995.  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 Law.  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 Bahraini workers at the International Labor 
Organization and 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 described above are empowered to discuss labor 
disputes, organize workers' services, and discuss wages, working 
conditions, and productivity, the workers have no independent, 
recognized vehicle for representing their interests on these or other 
labor-related issues.  JLC's make suggestions to management on some 
working conditions and limited aspects of wage issues; but management 
must agree to a proposal before it can be put in force. 
 
Minimum wage rates for public sector employees are established by 
Council of Ministers' decree.  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.  The Ministry of Labor 
enforces the labor laws with periodic inspections and routinely fines 
violators.  Provisions to the Labor Law passed in 1993 stiffened the 
fines and prison terms for certain violations.  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 Labor Ministry opens 
an investigation and often takes remedial action.  Although the Ministry 
takes such cases seriously, abuses undoubtedly go unreported, 
particularly those involving domestic workers and others 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 has yet been taken. 
 
Amendments to the Labor Law passed in November 1993 stiffened the 
penalties for engaging in visa 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.  The intense fear of deportation 
almost certainly allows some employer sponsors to impose abusive 
conditions on foreign workers.  In such instances, the situation 
approaches coerced or bonded labor on these employees. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The minimum age for employment is 14 years.  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 piecework 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. 
 
   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 current minimum wage for the public sector is 
$236.60 (91 dinars) a 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 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 Fourth High Court (Labor) 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 
are generally considered to favor the employee.  Under the Labor Law 
workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work 
situations without jeopardy to their continued employment. 
 
In 1993 the Government strengthened the Labor Law by Amiri decree, 
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 Bahrainis and expatriates and is 
intended to reduce abuses against foreign workers who have sometimes 
been denied legal salaries.  The law provides equal protection to 
Bahraini and foreign workers, but all foreign workers still require 
sponsorship by Bahrainis or Bahrain-based institutions and companies.  
Subject to sanctions for wrongful dismissal, sponsors are able to cancel 
the residence permit of any person under their sponsorship and thereby 
block them from obtaining entry or residence visas from another sponsor. 
 
Foreign workers, particularly those from developing countries, are often 
unwilling to report abuses for fear of losing residence rights and 
having to return to their native countries.  Instances of foreign 
workers being denied full wages, days off, vacations, or other 
guaranteed conditions of employment without compensation are 
periodically reported in the local press, as well as the court rulings 
or Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs actions taken in response.  
Nonetheless, government attempts to address individual abuses in these 
and other cases are often hampered by the workers' unwillingness to make 
a formal complaint. 
 
In addition, the Labor Law specifically favors Bahrainis, followed by 
Arab expatriates, over other foreign workers in hiring and firing.  
Because employers include housing and other allowances in their salary 
scales, expatriate workers can legally be paid lower regular wages than 
their Bahraini counterparts, although they sometimes receive the same or 
a greater total compensation package because of home leave and holiday 
pay allowances.  Western expatriates and Bahraini 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, nursing periods during the day, and up to one year of unpaid 
maternity leave, however women are generally paid less than men.  

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[end of document]

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