The Unprincipled, Targeted, and Illegal Practice of Arbitrary Detention in Bahrain


Ten years ago, a mass pro-democracy movement arose in Bahrain in response to the authoritarian Al-Khalifa regime. Rather than allowing Bahraini citizens to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, the authorities chose to quell the protests by arresting and charging hundreds of Bahraini human rights defenders and everyday civilians.

Arbitrary detention is a common tactic utilized by Bahraini authorities to obstruct human rights advocacy and silence dissident voices within the country. Since 2011, the government of Bahrain has arrested thousands of human rights defenders, religious figures, doctors, lawyers and others.

In a majority of cases, the arrests are extrajudicial. Records of Bahrain’s police officers show a strong and consistent record of arresting people without presenting any valid warrants. During their detention, those people are not able to exercise their right to legal counsel. Furthermore, torture and other types of threats are common in Bahraini detention centers. Many imprisoned individuals must make a choice: denounce human rights activists and confess to crimes they did not commit or face reprisals against them and/or their family members.

In the ten years since the Arab Uprising demonstrations in Bahrain, the country has only seen an increase in arbitrary detentions as the authorities attempt to restrict any and all anti-establishment activities. Something as small as a Tweet results in summons or arrests made in the dark of night at people’s homes. In short, freedom of expression has been utterly quashed in Bahrain.

Despite UN Attention, Bahrain Continues Arbitrary Detention

Bahrain has been called out for its practice of arbitrary detention on numerous occasions by the international community, but at each step it has denied the allegations or agreed to make changes which it has not fulfilled.

During the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) first three Universal Periodic Review (UPR) sessions focused on Bahrain, State participants to the review expressed serious concerns by the regular use of arbitrary arrest. In the first UPR session, concerned States made six recommendations calling on Bahrain to drop charges of individuals arrested for exercising their rights to assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience. Bahrain accepted these recommendations but has not implemented them; thousands of human rights defenders and political activists remain imprisoned. Bahrain also accepted a recommendation calling for the release of persons arrested without legal warrants; only a handful of these individuals have been freed. In general at these three UPR sessions, Bahrain accepts to implement measures aimed at stopping extrajudicial arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture, and unfair trials, and then it does not implement any of the measures.

The issue is not only with international institutions: The Bahraini government also accepted the majority of recommendations made by the Bahrain International Committee of Inquiry (BICI)––a Committee requested by Bahrain’s government and consisting of international and national experts. In particular, recommendations 1720, 1722(d), and 1723(c)  called for Bahrain to stop using arbitrary detention as a deterrent to the pro-democracy movement. A report published by ADHRB in 2016 revealed that none of these recommendations were implemented.


The Case of Dr. Al-Singace

Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace is an individual whose case is representative of the Bahraini authorities targeted attacks on human rights workers. As a member of the Al-Wefaq and Haq opposition parties, Dr. Al-Singace became a well-known critic of the Al-Khalifa ruling family. Prior to his multiple arrests and imprisonment, he held important positions at the University of Bahrain, where he was a specialist  in mechanical engineering.

In 2010, Dr. Al-Singace gave a speech in the United Kingdom about the alarming and debilitating human rights situation in Bahrain. Upon his return to Bahrain, he was arrested and detained for more than six months. During his detention, he was subjected to brutal torture, despite the fact that he suffered from post-polio syndrome––a fact of which the authorities were aware. In early February 2011, the King granted a Royal Pardon for his release.

One month later, Dr Al-Singace was arrested for his participation in the demonstrations. As a figure already known to the government for his activism, he was arrested as part of the “Bahrain Thirteen,” a group of thirteen political figures sentenced to prison terms for their peaceful participation in the Bahraini Arab Uprising.

Dr. Al-Singace remains detained at Jau prison, Bahrain’s largest male prison, where he suffers from several health conditions, including musculoskeletal and sickle cell disease. He regularly experiences shortness of breath, and symptoms related to his post-polio syndrome have worsened. He has repeatedly been denied access to much-needed medical care, and has been prevented from seeing his family since March 2017. Jau Prison does not maintain its prison standards required by international law; it is notorious for its inhuman conditions and its overcrowding.

Dr. Al-Singace’s case is exemplary of the fact that the Government of Bahrain makes no distinction between who it arrests; women, children, activists, and human rights defenders are not spared in any way by the government.  Many of these individuals are arrested without a warrant, and experience torture and other inhuman treatment at the hands of the Bahraini police and secret service.

A Call to End this Practice

Bahrain’s continued practice of arbitrary detention is clearly in violation of international treaties and principles, including the Paris Principles and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). ADHRB calls for the end of this practice, and for the release of all political prisoners, human rights defenders, and any other individuals arbitrarily arrested and detained.