Restricted Freedom … The Bahraini Government’s failure to Implement Transitional Justice for Released Individuals

On 8 April 2024, a royal decree was issued pardoning 1,584 prisoners, including several political prisoners. At first glance, the decree was considered a progressive reform in response to human rights demands aimed at improving the country’s dire rights situation. However, the step was incomplete, revealing that it was merely a means for the regime to polish its image before the international community.

The Bahraini Government launched organized arrests targeting opposition leaders, human rights defenders, opposition figures, and every citizen demanding reform and democracy following the popular protests of 2011. Prisons were filled with political prisoners, and repression became prevalent in the country, restricting and criminalizing freedom of expression. The restriction of freedoms extended even beyond the release, turning the country into a large prison that stifles voices calling for reform. As a result, self-censorship prevailed to avoid the guillotine of the judiciary.

The recent releases have shown that they come within a systematic context that the ruling authorities seek to consolidate through limited reforms that grant restricted freedom to individuals. These reforms ensure the individuals’ continued deprivation of freedom and the practice of revenge against them even after their release.

The Bahraini Government recently resorted to mass releases as a means of promoting reforms. These releases took advantage of Islamic religious occasions, claiming to create an atmosphere of “tolerance” from the government toward its citizens.

However, the releases of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha did not include any prominent opposition prisoners or leaders. The majority of those released under the royal pardon decrees were foreigners due to be deported. A common aspect of these steps is that they maintained the policy of impunity, leaving those responsible for torture free and protected.

Accordingly, just as those released over the past years were deprived of many of their civil and political rights under laws formulated by the government according to its standards, the recently released individuals have faced obstacles preventing them from regaining their full freedom. This has hindered the possibility of their reintegration into society.

In this report, we highlight the most important basic human rights that those released from prisons are deprived of after years of persecution and arbitrary detention.

Restricted freedom

The United Nations (UN) defines transitional justice as the obligation of states to provide effective redress to victims of human rights violations and to fulfill their rights to truth, justice, and reparation. Transitional justice aims to recognize victims, strengthen individuals’ confidence in state institutions, strengthen respect for human rights, and uphold the rule of law as a step toward reconciliation and preventing new violations. Its operations include fact-finding, prosecution initiatives, various types of compensations, and a wide range of measures to prevent the recurrence of violations, including constitutional, legal, and institutional reform, as well as the strengthening of civil society.

Under the political and civil isolation laws adopted in 2018, the government legitimized its violations, including depriving released individuals of many internationally guaranteed rights such as secure housing, education, medical care, work, and freedom of movement. it imposed restrictions and requirements, including security checks and a “certificate of good conduct” as a condition for obtaining any of these rights.

As a result, instead of the royal pardon being a reform step and a review of previous policies by restoring the freedom of those released, guaranteeing their stolen rights, and providing them with compensation and reparation, they are granted conditional freedom. Their hope of continuing their lives and receiving compensation for the pain and injustice they endured in prison is taken away. Consequently, they are deprived of their right, like other citizens, to obtain all services guaranteed in the Bahraini Constitution.

Therefore, the step to release political prisoners in Bahrain must be followed by additional steps, starting with ensuring all their rights as equal citizens in society, compensating them for the violations they endured, and ultimately investigating these violations and holding those responsible accountable.

However, the practices of the Bahraini Government make the freedom of the released individuals restricted and limit the possibility of achieving transitional justice. Transitional justice, as guaranteed by the UN, provides for the recognition of victims and their needs, as well as enhancing individuals’ confidence in state institutions, strengthening respect for human rights among members of society, and upholding the rule of law, to ensure accountability and justice. This aims for reconciliation and preventing new violations. Hence, achieving transitional justice is a first step toward ensuring social justice for all members of society and ending the discrimination practiced against a specific group.

The right to housing

On 25 June 2024, the Bahraini authorities summoned tthree of those released for investigation: Mohamed AlMahasna, Sayed Alawi, and Hamed Jaafar Mahfooz. This followed their participation in a sit-in a day earlier in front of the Al-Qudaibiya Palace Square, the headquarters of the Council of Ministers, to demand their housing rights. This protest followed the Ministry of Housing’s decision to freeze prisoners’ applications and halt the housing service, a flagrant violation of the right to housing guaranteed by the UN and an arbitrary form of collective punishment. Although those released did not commit any crime and only raised two banners demanding their right to housing in accordance with Bahraini laws and international conventions, they were treated as violators of the law.

Although this sit-in addressed the Crown Prince regarding the impossible conditions set by the Ministry of Housing for those released, which contradict his recommendations, the Ministry of Interior prosecuted the protesters, took their ID cards and phone numbers, and threatened them with legal accountability. This happened within less than 24 hours, as the protesters standing in front of the government headquarters received summonses. According to one of the participants in the peaceful sit-in, the head of the police station was informed that this move came after they had exhausted all possible means, including previous letters sent to the Crown Prince and to a number of MPs, but to no avail.

This is the second sit-in after a number of those released had staged another sit-in in front of the Ministry of Housing on 26 May 2024 to demand the retroactive return of the housing allowance. The protesters raised banners demanding their rights as citizens and calling for an end to the injustice targeting their families by punishing the head of the household. Instead of engaging peacefully with the protesters, the authorities responded by arresting them and taking them to the Hoora Center simply because they were calling for their rights. Although the royal decree and the cabinet’s decisions stipulate the collection of these rights retroactively, the authorities responded to the sit-in of those released who were calling for their legitimate and inherent rights by summoning them as a form of threat to re-arrest them.

Among those who were released and deprived of housing services, whether a housing application or a housing allowance, is Mohamed Yusuf Mohamed, whose housing application and allowance have been suspended and frozen since 2016, despite his wife’s repeated visits to the ministry. This measure also affected the family of former detainee Hamed Jaafar Mahfouz by suspending his monthly housing allowance and its retroactive effect. Former detainee Sayed Alawi AbdulAziz Salman was also deprived of his housing application since 2016 and it is still suspended to this day; he is now living in his parents’ house.

Subsequently, the cost-of-living allowance for former detainee Hasan Ahmed Husain Kadhem AlAali has been suspended since 2016, as well as his request for the allowance, without any valid reason, even though this right is granted to married couples. As a result, the family is the direct victim of this measure. Hasan AlAali tried to visit the undersecretary, Fatima AlMannai and tried to communicate with her regularly, but to no avail. He then resorted to civil associations that are striving to communicate with the ministry and those concerned with this matter.

The released individuals speak of the Ministry of Housing’s procrastination in implementing official pledges and government recommendations to facilitate the affairs of those released in a way that contributes to their social reintegration. The obstacles the ministry places in the way of applicants for the right to be included in housing applications and allowances go beyond administrative procedures to arbitrary measures that prevent them from resuming their previous lives. Consequently, burdens are placed on their shoulders, directly affecting their families and causing them to face many challenges and increasing psychological, social, and economic burdens. By imposing impossible requirements, such as providing a work contract for housing or allowance applicants, the ministry pre-judges the released individuals and deprives them of these services, which should be an acquired right for all citizens.

The right to education

Although the right to education is one of the guaranteed basic human rights, the Bahraini Government denies this right to political prisoners inside prisons and restricts it even after their release. Instead of granting those released the right to education and overcoming difficulties to facilitate the process of completing their studies, it imposes severe restrictions on this right. For example:

One of the political prisoners released under the recent royal amnesty, Husain Kadhem AlFatlawi, still has his right to complete his studies restricted. Husain, who was arrested when he was a university student, was deprived of completing his education and graduating, even though he was only three courses away from graduation. When he consulted the relevant authorities, he was informed that he could not continue his studies, disregarding the fact that he was a political prisoner, and, therefore, the suspension of his studies was not of his own free will.

Jawad AbdulHadi Ali, another political prisoner released under the recent amnesty, was a student at the University of Bahrain majoring in accurate instrumentation and control. He still has 44 out of 138 credit hours left to graduate. Jawad recently went to university to complete his studies, but the university administration required him to write a letter and submit a certificate of good conduct, in an unjustified measure. Despite consulting the university and the Ministry of Education, the relevant authorities are procrastinating in granting him this right. There is no legal reference to rely on in this arbitrary measure, which is nothing more than a means of revenge against those released, preventing them from resuming their previous lives.

The right to medical treatment

The right to medical treatment is one of the basic rights guaranteed by conventions and laws, but this right is violated for political prisoners and is one of the methods of revenge used against them, which has led to the death of some. This right is violated even after release, as many of them are denied access to medical treatment and health services, leaving them vulnerable to continued pain and suffering.

The issue of medical negligence reveals the cases of dozens of detainees who were injured during detention and imprisonment after they were healthy and did not suffer from any diseases, as well as others whose health conditions worsened due to the lack of health care. Even going to the prison clinic was part of the psychological torture that increased the prisoner’s suffering, as evident in many cases. One of the most common injuries is toothache. During imprisonment, many prisoners suffer from tooth loss. This is a common problem among political prisoners, who are not provided with proper treatment and only have their teeth extracted rather than treated. What’s more, the patient himself may have to pull his own tooth to alleviate his excruciating pain while being denied the right to medical treatment. The role of the prison clinic does not go beyond prescribing medicines, often Panadol, and even then, the patient does not get the medicine.

Among these cases is the prominent Bahraini opposition figure and political prisoner, Mr. Hasan Mushaima, who suffered for ten months from dental pain and fractures because he was prevented from visiting a doctor. Another case is Haider Ebrahim Mulla Hasan, a child arrested at the age of 16, who suffered from a dental issue, but had eight of his teeth extracted without the promised replacements by the Jau Prison administration, hindering his ability to chew his food. As for Mohamed AbdulJabbar Sarhan, two of his teeth were broken as a result of torture, causing him severe dental pain. Ebrahim Yusuf Ali AlSamahiji and Ammar Ebrahim Ahmed also suffered from dental damage and were denied treatment like other detainees.

Some prisoners are denied diagnoses, some are not given the necessary examinations, some are procrastinated in providing proper treatment, and some are even denied medication! One of the most prominent cases is Mr. Hasan Mushaima, who has been denied medication and regular check-ups for a long time. He does not receive his diabetes and blood pressure medications consistently, and his painkillers and medications have not been adjusted according to his health needs. Sayed Adnan Majed Hashem continues to suffer from deliberate medical neglect, as he has not received treatment for a knee injury he sustained when security forces fired shotgun bullets at participants in a peaceful demonstration in 2014. He was denied treatment and was not prescribed proper medication, and despite severe pain, the prison administration refused to give him painkillers. Mohamed Hasan Abdulla (AlRamel) is forced to engage in repeated hunger strikes to demand his right to treatment. Since his arrest in 2015, he has been repeatedly denied medical appointments and medication.

This violation, suffered by all political prisoners, raises the question of the government’s responsibility post-release and the role it should play in redressing the harm and alleviating the pain of those released. This issue needs to be addressed quickly by securing the right to medical care and ensuring full treatment for the sick.

Among the many examples is the case of released detainee Fadhel Abbas Yahya Isa, who developed lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease, while in prison. His health condition deteriorated due to torture and unsanitary conditions in Jau Prison. Although his condition required special care, King Hamad University Hospital did not have any specialists in hereditary hematology, and his treatment was delayed. During his imprisonment, Fadhel was not given his medication on time and his medical appointments were repeatedly canceled. Another case is Hamed AlMahfooz, who is asking the Ministry of Health for his right to treatment as guaranteed by the Royal Pardon Decree, which guarantees the rights of the pardoned and facilitates the procedures for them to receive treatment.

The right to work

If the social effects affect the reintegration of those released, the most serious obstacle they face is the denial of the right to work through the requirement of a “good conduct” certificate, which means a life sentence denies them the right to obtain jobs in the public sector and imposes similar conditions in many private sector companies, including security restrictions. This denial deprives citizens of the right to support their families simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Among them are a number of prisoners of conscience who were released years ago but are still denied the right to work. This includes activists like Ali Al Hajee, Najah Yusuf, Hajj Ali Muhana, and many others who lost their jobs, were deprived of compensation, and are still unable to reintegrate into the normal economic cycle.

One of those released under the royal decree in April 2024, who preferred to remain anonymous due to fear of further reprisals, speaks of being deprived of the right to work, despite the Crown Prince’s orders to provide unemployment allowances to those covered by the amnesty. Before his arrest, he worked in the private sector for less than a year before being arrested, leading to his job loss and denial of the right to unemployment insurance. Although he registered as unemployed with the Ministry of Labor, followed all necessary procedures and deadlines, and applied for available job opportunities, he was excluded as a beneficiary of the reconsideration petition. The response cited that”he is not eligible according to Article 17 of the Unemployment Insurance Law but can access e-services for training and employment through the Ministry of Labor’s platform.”

It is worth noting that according to the information we received, about 30 released citizens were denied unemployment insurance for the same reasons.

The right to freedom of movement

A travel ban is one of the consequences imposed on political prisoners, which can persist for many years after their release, constituting a clear violation and restriction of their right to freedom of movement. Although no legal impediments are preventing those released from exercising this right, these bans are arbitrarily imposed on them, as well as on many activists and human rights defenders, as a measure to limit their activities. This right continues to be denied for individuals who have completed their sentences or have been released for years, such as activist Ali Muhana, who has been repeatedly banned from traveling without being informed of the decision or its reasons. This measure also targets former political prisoners who are still active in documenting and monitoring violations, such as activists Najah Yusuf and Ebtisam AlSaegh, who also experience restricted freedom of movement and find their names on travel ban lists and are banned from entering certain Gulf countries. Activist and former political prisoner Ali AlHaee was prosecuted solely for advocating the lifting of his travel ban. Though his case was dropped, he is still denied his right to travel as a retaliatory measure for his human rights activism.

The release is an earned right for all political prisoners and must remain free from attempts of deception and political exploitation. Transitional justice requires governing authorities to promptly resolve cases without administrative bureaucracy and political revenge. This entails lifting the punishments inflicted on political prisoners by restoring all their rights, including compensation and reparations, initiating new investigations, and holding those responsible for all the violations they suffered accountable. This requires serious steps rather than the Interior Ministry’s efforts to whitewash its programs, including the Alternative Punishments Program, to obscure the fact that it criminalizes political activism and imprisons opponents and human rights defenders.

The above are only a few of the social, economic, and other difficulties facing those released, hindering their ability to turn a new page in their lives and integrate back into society. It is first and foremost the responsibility of the state to facilitate all their needs, starting with granting them the rights to medical care, housing, treatment, education, and other rights guaranteed to all citizens.


Achieving transitional justice is a necessary step toward improving the human rights situation and ending impunity, and requires the government to reform its security system, initiate criminal prosecutions, and provide reparations for victims.

While Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls for the implementation of the binding decisions to restore services to those released, it also calls for an end to the injustice done to them through the requirement to obtain a certificate of good conduct. This measure restricts their freedom, which ADHRB condemns and calls for its immediate abolition.

ADHRB calls for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, advocating for the clearance of prisons. It demands that all those released, whether through the expiration of their sentence, pardoned by royal decree, or released under the Alternative Sanctions Law, have their civil rights fully restored and arbitrary security restrictions lifted. ADHRB also calls for the implementation of the Transitional Justice Law as a necessary step to restore the stolen rights of the victims, as well as the provision of compensation and reparations.