In light of Bahrain’s decade-long policy of silence regarding its citizens’ demands for reform and democracy, thousands of Bahraini youth and children who participated in the 2011 popular movement have spent a significant portion of their lives behind prison bars. In some cases, these prison sentences have exceeded the young ages of the prisoners. International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have confirmed that Bahrain is pursuing a dangerous organized campaign against the opposition, persistently restricting the freedoms of expression and assembly. These organizations also affirm Bahrain’s ongoing policy of detaining individuals for exercising these fundamental rights despite the promises it made to respect human rights.
This organized campaign of violations and harassment against prisoners of conscience in Bahrain extends beyond the period of their arrest, investigation, and trial. It also goes beyond the psychological and physical torture they endure inside detention centers and prisons. Instead, it extends to the post-release stage, where released individuals face violations and a different set of restrictions. This begins with depriving them of their civil rights and doesn’t end with the consequences of these denied basic rights. Among these rights is the right to work, which a prisoner of conscience is denied. Authorities require them to obtain an official document known as a “good standing” certificate from various official bodies to secure employment in the public or private sector. As Bahrain’s laws label prisoners of conscience as ‘criminal prisoners,’ they are treated as criminals, facing delays or denial in obtaining a good standing certificate. Consequently, they lose the opportunity to reintegrate into normal civil life after release. This amounts to the confiscation of one of their fundamental rights, restricting a part of their freedom, in clear violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules).
The Bahraini government confiscates these rights based on the political and civil isolation laws adopted in 2018, which classify political prisoners as criminal prisoners and consequently deprive them of their civil rights. These arbitrary measures, as described by human rights organizations, ‘lie at the heart of the legal war waged by the Bahraini state against the peaceful activity of its citizens.’ According to Human Rights Watch, Bahraini authorities have effectively suppressed political opposition in the country by imposing political and civil isolation laws on the peaceful activity of its citizens. This includes expanding practices that restrict economic opportunities for opposition members and former prisoners through the routine delay or denial of a “good standing certificate.” Importantly, the laws do not provide means for targeted individuals to challenge or seek redress regarding the ban.
In this report, we review the testimonies of Bahraini activists who were political prisoners. Despite completing their sentences and meeting all legal conditions, they are still deprived of their right to work under the Civil Penal Code, which criminalizes “freedom of expression” and transforms the political prisoner into a criminal prisoner, stripping away their basic rights. We highlight the cases of several political prisoners, including Professor Ali Muhanna, activist Najah Yusuf, and political prisoner Ali AlHajee, who continue to face violations through arbitrary measures applied to them.
The Repercussions of The Isolation Law on Political Opponents and Activists
In conjunction with the 2018 parliamentary elections, Law No. 25, known as the Political Isolation Law, and Law No. 36, known as the Civil Isolation Law, were issued. These laws prevent former political opposition members from running for parliament or serving as members of the boards of directors of civil organizations, thereby stifling opposition voices and silencing mouths. Government tactics targeted opposition figures and political activists, whether previously convicted or pardoned on arbitrary charges related to freedom of expression and the right to assembly. The gravity of the law lies in its disruption of the targeted peoples’ civil life, as it restricts their economic opportunities by denying them the “good standing certificate” or what is known as the “clearance paper.” This document is required by government agencies and most private agencies when registering or applying for any matter in order to be able to practice civil life, such as applying to run for office or voting in any elections taking place in the country. It is also required to apply for a job, join a university, or even register for a sports club!
In Bahrain, there are no laws regulating the issuance of a good conduct certificate. Consequently, it has become a tool for political revenge against activists and opponents. This is mainly because obtaining it involves submitting a request to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) and the Forensic Department in the Ministry of Interior (MOI). The MOI, which was previously an opponent, now serves as the judge, and the process requires an audit by the security authorities. Bahrain’s classification considers a prisoner of conscience to be a criminal prisoner, which means you may be deprived of the document, or your request may be rejected without explanation. At best, the concerned authorities may ignore and procrastinate your request, and the result is the same in all cases: deprivation of one of your fundamental rights. Accordingly, you will be deprived of your right to work, study, and other basic rights, such as travel and engagement in political and civil work, in addition to other rights. Therefore, your rights will be denied, and your freedom will be restricted even after your release. This is the current strategy employed by the Government of Bahrain as a permanent means of retaliation against released political prisoners. This policy of isolation and exclusion is an open threat aimed at suppressing the freedom of individuals and labeling them as criminals.
There is no official data on the number of people affected and targeted by these laws, which do not provide a means to appeal or seek redress regarding the ban. However, estimates indicate that between six thousand and eleven thousand Bahraini citizens are retroactively prevented from running for parliament and membership in organizations councils.
Gradual Repression and Reprisal in Deprivation of Employment
Bahrain has enacted laws that criminalize human rights work, effectively labeling human rights defenders and pro-reform activists as criminals and subjecting them to persecution by security authorities. Over time, the government sought to silence the opposition. In addition to dissolving associations and arresting opposition leaders, it employed the judiciary against every dissenting voice, revealing the judiciary’s bias and lack of independence. Subsequently, it introduced the political isolation law, serving as the final blow in stifling freedoms and criminalizing them. However, what posed a greater danger was the Ministry of Labor and Social Development’s expansion of the law’s application since the beginning of 2020, now encompassing civil rights as well. This implies that the confiscated political rights have now extended to civil rights as well, depriving political prisoners of the “right to work,” a right guaranteed in international laws and conventions. This further tightens the measures preventing those released from reclaiming their lives after the release stage.
The government has notified civil society institutions of the security auditing requirement by the Ministry of Labor. Consequently, individuals subjected to the political isolation law will be deprived by government agencies of opportunities to work in civil society institutions and organizations. This demonstrates the government’s increased grip on public freedoms, extending its influence to encompass economic aspects as well.
The Labor Law Violates the International Covenant
The Civil Service Law issued by Decree-Law No. (48) of 2010 stipulates conditions for obtaining a job in the government sector. Both the second and third clauses of Article (11) of the conditions of appointment stipulate that the applicant for the position must be of good reputation and must not have previously been sentenced to “a felony penalty or a freedom-restricting penalty for a crime against honor or trust unless he has been rehabilitated.” Point (f) of Article (25) also stipulates that one of the reasons for the termination of civil service is “a final ruling imposing a felony penalty or a freedom-restricting penalty for a crime against honor or trust. Dismissal is permissible by the competent authority if the ruling is suspended after the approval of the Bureau.”
The procedures for obtaining a job in the government sector do not differ from those that must be met when applying for a job in the private sector. Article (83) of the new Labor Law of 2012 stipulates that “every worker who is detained provisionally shall be suspended from his work by force of law and deprived of his wages for the period of his imprisonment,” and the employer has the right “to terminate the employment contract if the other conditions for termination are met.”
Thus, with the approval of the Bahraini king, the Bahraini government, represented by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, expanded the laws that deprive prisoners of conscience of their right to work and prevent them from engaging in civil society work and activities. In doing so, it targeted a wide segment of society and undermined the equality system that is supposed to be respected according to the country’s constitution.
The Bahraini labor law contradicts The International Covenant on the Right to Work issued by the United Nations. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as outlined in General Comment No. 18 adopted on 24 November 2005, states that “States Parties are obligated to respect the right to work, including not depriving anyone of the right to equal opportunities in obtaining decent work or restricting this right, especially for deprived and marginalized individuals and groups. This also applies to prisoners or detainees, minorities, and migrant workers”.
Additionally, Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlines the obligations of parties concerning an individual’s right to have equal access to public service positions.
The Bahraini laws also violate the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), which recommend that the government or private entities assisting released prisoners in reintegrating into society should, to the extent possible, strive to provide them with necessary documents and identification papers, suitable housing and employment, appropriate clothing for the climate and season, and sufficient resources to reach their destination and secure their livelihood immediately following their release.
Testimonies of Detainees
Numerous testimonies exist about detainees who have been dismissed from their jobs in government entities due to their political arrests, including:
- Najah Yusuf:
Najah Yusuf was arrested in April 2017 for exercising her right to freedom of opinion and expression, criticizing Bahrain hosting the Formula 1 race amid the authorities’ use of violence to suppress peaceful protesters, their arrest, and the killing of citizens. In June 2018, the court sentenced the activist Yusuf to three years in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow and change the political and social system and promoting terrorist crimes through promotional recordings. In September 2019, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion considering that Najah’s arrest was arbitrary and that the Bahraini authorities should release her, compensate her, and hold those responsible for her torture accountable. After being detained for two years and four months, and following human rights advocacy and international pressure, she was released through a royal pardon in August 2019.
However, what Najah endured did not stop at her arrest, imprisonment, and torture. The policy of retaliation extended beyond her release, as she was terminated from her job and deprived of the right to obtain employment. Najah contacted her employer, the Labor Market Regulatory Authority, which, in turn, sent a termination notice based on her trial related to freedom of expression, even though it is not a crime against decency or integrity as stipulated by labor law. She also filed a complaint with the Civil Service Bureau, and after several reviews, she was informed over the phone that her termination from work was legal. In case of objection, she could resort to the judiciary. However, this requires funds and ongoing financial expenses over an extended period, hindering Najah from seeking legal recourse due to her financial situation. She remains unemployed and deprived of work despite the opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which recommended compensating Najah both materially and morally.
- Ali Muhanna:
Ali Mohsen Muhanna, a Bahraini activist and father of political prisoner Husain Muhanna, was subjected to a series of arrests due to his participation in peaceful gatherings and demonstrations. The first occurred in 2016 on charges of participating in an unauthorized gathering in Manama, and the fourth was in 2017 for participating in the Diraz protests. Muhanna was tried in the previous two cases and released on bail in January 2018, while the trial, to which he was not summoned and denied attendance, was ongoing. In April 2019, he was sentenced to one year in prison, and in August 2019, he was released after completing his sentence.
After his release, Ali repeatedly faced several legal proceedings, from summoning to detention, as reprisals against his activism and demands for the release of the prisoners of conscience. Due to his activism, Muhanna was forced to sign multiple pledges over the past year regarding his participation in demonstrations calling for the release of prisoners of conscience. He also was forced to sign many pledges regarding his posts on social media addressing the mistreatment of prisoners.
From April 2021 until January 2022, he was summoned 12 times on various charges and fined. From the beginning of 2023 until the end of September, he received a total of 12 summonses on charges of freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration. Bahrain’s authorities rely on articles of the Alternative Penal Code to legitimize their violations, leveling vague charges of incitement and undermining public order. This criminalizes individuals’ rights to assembly and expression of opinion.
In addition, Muhanna was deprived of his job under laws aimed at retaliating against political prisoners. Muhanna, an Arabic language teacher, was dismissed from his job after his first arrest in 2017. The Ministry of Education acknowledged the termination of his services. As he had spent 23 years in education, the social security system determined the decision regarding his retirement, and he was given a financial sum as an “end-of-service bonus.”
Muhanna states that during his first arrest, which lasted for six months, his salary was suspended. After his release, he was suspended from work while the committee at the Ministry of Education made its decision regarding his case. After four months without a salary, the verbal response indicated that he was dismissed due to a criminal case of assembly. The written response outlined the following: 1) Termination of employment, 2) Ineligibility for retirement benefits, 3) Non-inclusion of the last two years of work at the Ministry due to the judgment against him and the arrest during this period, 4) Repayment of the salaries earned while he was convicted, and 5) Awarding him a retirement bonus with the deduction of salaries from the last two years. The procedures concluded with him losing many benefits, including the percentage calculated for the retirement salary. This led to a financial crisis due to obligations to repay loans to banks, including a housing loan.
- Ali AlHajee:
In May 2013, the authorities arrested Ali AlHajee, who lacked legal rights to a fair trial and was arbitrarily sentenced to 10 years. During this trial, he endured torture that resulted in a broken nose, hearing failure in the left ear, damage to blood vessels in the reproductive system, and complete damage to the lower jaw teeth.
Following his release last June after completing his sentence under the Alternative Penal Code, Ali was re-arrested for several days in November 2023 while he was in front of the Ministry of the Interior’s building (Al-Qalaa). This arrest resulted from demanding his legitimate civil rights to lift his travel ban and obtain a sheet of acquittal that entitles him to restore his normal life, including access to employment. The Public Prosecution Office (PPO) issued a decision stating that Ali had terminated his judicial provisions and had to review the MOI to complete the travel ban procedure. Despite his repeated visits to the Ministry and the promises he received to complete the procedures, the request was ignored and delayed. Ali was released on financial bail, while the Ministry of Interior continued to obstruct his procedures to lift the travel ban and hand over the necessary statements to him to be able to obtain work to live on, including a clearance statement. AlHajee revisited the PPO several times and was informed that the case against him had been officially canceled, and all necessary papers had been processed.
On 13 November 2023, AlHajee visited the MOI’s office in Al- Qalaa Building, inquiring about the reason for the delay in lifting the travel ban and obtaining a clearance certificate despite the PPO sending the order on 12 November. The next day, he visited the Ministry of Interior office and inquired at the External Visitors Gate (No. 3) about his file. The employee informed him that his papers were not yet ready, and at that point, he was arrested on charges of insulting a government official. The charges against Ali changed three times, and after denying all of them, he was accused of entering a military zone, even though the building he intended to visit was designated for civilians.
Therefore, what Al-Hajee is experiencing constitutes a blatant violation of human rights principles and undermines the open-door policy claimed by the authorities. He, along with many others released, suffers from the obstruction of their proceedings without justification, acting as a continuous punishment that deprives them of their civil rights.
However, despite the repressive choices, targeting policies, revenge, and evasive tactics clearly employed by the Bahraini government, it has recently benefited from the United Nations Development Program and the Regional Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Middle East and North Africa. This was utilized to promote what it described as “national commitments to the special procedures followed by international mechanisms in monitoring human rights.”
Based on the above, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the government of Bahrain to cease its arbitrary measures against those released and emphasizes the following recommendations:
First: Abolish the political and civil isolation laws, replacing them with laws that align with the UN Nelson Mandela Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the UN International Covenant on the Right to Work, and the International Labor Organization’s International Labor Standards, especially Convention No. 111 of 1958 regarding non-discrimination in employment and occupations.
Second: Put an end to the arbitrary procedures followed by the Ministry of Interior, particularly denying clearance certificates as a means of retaliation against opponents.
Third: Amend articles that deprive the released political prisoner of his right to obtain a job in both private and public sectors, by amending or canceling the requirements present in the Civil Service Commission and Labor Laws.
Fourth: Amend articles of the Penal Code to halt the targeting of individuals for exercising their legitimate rights to express their opinions and engage in peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by international law.
Fifth : Grant individuals the right to file an appeal, seek redress, or object to the measures taken against them.
ADHRB also calls on the Government of Bahrain to respect all international laws in this regard, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ADHRB urges Bahrain to halt the continued persecution of workers and retaliation against them following their release from prison by depriving them of their right to work and live a decent life, obstructing their papers and banning their travel, and ensuring that they do not move from a small prison to a large prison.