The Kingdom of Bahrain

King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa


The Kingdom of Bahrain is located in the Persian Gulf with a population of approximately 1.7 million people. It is an archipelago made of 83 islands, 50 natural and 33 artificial. Arabic is the official language of the state, but English, Farsi, and Urdu are also spoken. 46% of the population is Bahraini, 45.5% Asian, 4.7% other Arab nationalities, 1.6% African, and 1% European. Bahrain is predominantly Muslim with 73.7% of the population identifying as Muslim. 9.3% identify as Christian, 0.1% identify as Jewish, and 16.9% follow other religions, a mix of Hinduism, Baha’ism, Buddhism, Sikhism.



The Bahraini government consists of three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa has served as the Chief of State since March 6, 1999. Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa has served as Head of Government since November 11, 2020. The executive cabinet is appointed by the monarch, while elections are held for appointment to the legislative branch. The state operates as a constitutional monarchy. 

In 2011, the Bahraini people began protests demanding greater civil and political rights; the same day the first demonstrator was killed by security forces. The ensuing government crackdown led to a continuing human rights crisis: excessive force was repeatedly used by security forces against peaceful protesters. Close to 50 people were killed and hundreds injured. Hundreds were arrested and tried before military courts, many reporting torture or ill-treated in detention. More than 4,000 protesters were dismissed from their jobs or expelled from university for having participated in the protests. 

In spite of the Bahraini security forces’ demonstrated willingness to use excessive force to repress protesters, the United States Department of State announced a planned sale of $53 million of weapons and equipment to Bahrain in 2012. Since 2014, the U.S. has provided Bahrain with $52.9 million in military aid via Foreign Military Financing and the Department of Defense military grant assistance. 


Freedom of assembly, association, and expression

Many continue to face injustice. Twenty doctors and nurses sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for their involvement in protests are currently appealing their sentences. Fourteen opposition activists, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Ebrahim Sharif, remain behind bars, having been sentenced to up to life in prison in an unfair trial by a military court.

In 2016, Amnesty reported on an increase in the use of banishment of individuals by revoking their citizenship by Bahrain’s authorities. The patterned use of expulsion appeared to become the Bahraini authorities’ weapon of choice when silencing dissent. This rise in expulsions followed the 10x increase in nationality revocations in 2015 compared to 2014. 


Freedom of association and expression

2016 also saw the dissolution of the main opposition party in Bahrain, which marked a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association. The suppression of human rights and opposition continued in 2017 as the secular opposition group, National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), was banned and dissolved.


Torture and ill-treatment

On 23 November 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by royal decree on 29 June, presented its findings to the King of Bahrain. The BICI’s report concluded, amongst other things, that excessive force had been used against protesters, that torture was widespread and that many people were on trial or had been sentenced to prison terms for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The report made a number of recommendations which the King promised to implement.

Despite some steps being taken, such as the opening of the trial of eight policemen, five of them Pakistani, one Yemeni and two Bahrainis accused of mistreating prisoners and killing protesters and bringing in international human rights experts and policing experts to train the police, Amnesty International is not aware of any serious steps taken to ensure accountability. Most glaringly, no action is known to have been taken so far against any high-ranking security officers or government officials for their involvement in human rights abuses. Neither have any outcome of investigations into alleged torture been made public. Despite the fact that several private companies announced the reinstatement of employees who had been dismissed because of their participation in protests, hundreds of people have yet to be reinstated. Dozens of university students are still waiting to be allowed to resume their studies. Most worryingly, excessive force continues to be used against protesters on almost a daily basis and the death toll mounts. Reports of torture and ill-treatment continue to reach Amnesty International.

Bahrain’s actions have continued to show that the kingdom is “not serious” about human rights reforms. In 2013, Bahrain cancelled the U.N. Torture Review of the Kingdom for the second time. A 2015 Amnesty report found that rampant abuses, including torture, arbitrary detentions, and excessive use of force against peaceful protestors and government critics had continued unabated.

In March 2021, Amnesty International joined 14 peer human rights groups to urge the Biden Administration to address the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain. The recommendations outlined by the group include pressuring Bahrain to end the use of torture and ill-treatment and to apply the Leahy Laws and other mechanisms to restrict security and military assistance to Bahraini security force units that are found to violate human rights and to promote justice in individual cases. The letter is accessible here.


Bahrain Newsroom

February 26, 2019 • Report

Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: A review of 2018

The international community’s chilling complacency towards wide-scale human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has emboldened governments to commit appalling violations during 2018 by giving them …

September 6, 2017 • Report

No one can protect you: Bahrain’s year of crushing dissent

A new report published by Amnesty International today sheds light on the repressive tactics used by the Bahraini government over the past year to crush civil society and violently crack down on protests, leading to the deaths of six people, including one child.

July 19, 2017 • Press Release

Bahrain: Human rights defender charged with terrorism

The Bahraini authorities’ decision to bring terrorism charges against Ebtissam al-Saegh, a human rights defender detained since July 3, 2017, is a chilling blow to human rights in the country, said Amnesty International.

July 12, 2017 • Press Release

Secretary Tillerson Visit to Gulf Must Not Greenlight More Abuses Against Human Rights Defenders

Today, Secretary Tillerson is meeting with senior foreign officials in Saudi Arabia. This is the latest leg of a week-long tour of the Gulf, and the meeting will include officials from Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Tillerson is expected to discuss counterterrorism and security efforts. Amnesty International USA senior director of campaigns, Naureen Shah, issued this statement:

July 10, 2017 • Press Release

Bahrain: Jail term for human rights defender Nabeel Rajab exposes authorities’ relentless campaign to wipe out dissent

The sentencing of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, in his absence, to two years in prison for TV interviews is the latest shocking display of zero tolerance for freedom of expression by the Bahraini authorities, Amnesty International said today.

May 31, 2017 • Press Release

Bahrain heading for ‘total suppression’ of human rights as secular opposition group banned

Bahrain’s dissolution of a major political opposition society is the latest troubling move in its blatant campaign to end all criticism of the government, Amnesty International said.

March 30, 2017 • Press Release

Suspending Human Rights Restrictions on U.S. Arms Sale to Bahrain Sends Dangerous Message

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will reportedly lift human rights conditions on an arms sale to Bahrain, despite that country’s record of oppression against dissidents and participation in a Saudi-led coalition that has bombed thousands of civilians in Yemen...

December 12, 2016 • Press Release

Bahrain: Opposition leader condemned to nine years in prison following unfair and arbitrary verdict

A nine year prison sentence against the Bahraini opposition leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, was upheld today by a Bahraini Appeal Court, after a retrial, in another blow to freedom of expression in the country

November 18, 2016 • Report

Window-dressing or pioneers of change? An assessment of Bahrain’s human rights oversight bodies

Five years after Bahrain’s 2011 uprising, which saw peaceful protesters beaten, shot, and killed in the streets, key reforms introduced to address human rights violations by the security forces have yet to deliver justice to the vast majority of victims and their families, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.

October 25, 2016 • Press Release

Bahrain: Assault on freedom of expression continues as activists face jail for tweets

Bahraini authorities must immediately and unconditionally release human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and opposition leader Fadhel Abbas, two prisoners of conscience who are facing long prison sentences for using Twitter …

URGENT: Children seeking asylum in the U.S. are being denied their human rights based on their nationality — help ensure that all girls and boys fleeing violence can seek safety.