Bahrain has a population of 1.3 million, of which only half are citizens. Citizens belong mostly to Islam (99%), the remaining 1% are Christians, Hindus, Baha’is and Jews. There are no statistics regarding Shia and Sunni representation, however, it can be assumed that Shiites represent a majority. The other half of the population constitutes a majority of migrant workers from South Asia and the Philippines (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Baha’is and Sikhs). Bahrain has experienced prolonged unrests since 2011, when predominantly Shiite protestors demanded political reform and the end of Sunni minority hegemony.

Rating: Grave Violations
This country is found to be declining as a long-term political crisis drags on and the government hardens into an authoritarian regime.

Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

The constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of religion or belief, but it does make some provision for the freedom of conscience, the inviolability of places of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings, in accordance with the customs observed in the country. The constitution stipulates that there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion. However, the constitution also states that Islam is the official religion and that the principles of Islamic law are a main source for legislation.

Every Muslim religious group must obtain a licence from the government and non-Muslim groups must register. There are currently 19 non-Muslim religious groups registered. The government monitors and censors religious sermons and activities, in order to prevent political activities. However, since the Bahraini political conflict closely links religious and political affiliation, it is difficult to determine many incidents as being solely based on religion.

The national ID cards and birth certificates do not designate the religious affiliation.

Bahraini authorities can strip a citizen of nationality. Further, the government have arrested and suspended several Shia clerics for opposing the government or for not renouncing violence.

The civil and criminal legal systems consist of a complex mix of courts based on diverse legal sources, including both Shiite (Jaafari) and Sunni (Maliki) schools of Islamic jurisprudence, tribal law, and other civil codes. Sharia governs personal status, and a person’s rights can vary according to Shiite or Sunni interpretation, as determined by the individual’s faith or by the courts.

The constitution prohibits discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on the basis of religion or belief; however, there are no further laws to prevent discrimination, nor procedures to file a grievance.

Education and children’s rights

Islamic studies are a part of the curriculum in government schools and mandatory for all public school students. Non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out. The public school curriculum includes only Sunni (Maliki) religious education and no Shia (Jaafari) traditions.

Family, community and society

In May 2009, the government adopted the country’s first personal status law, which regulates family matters such as inheritance, child custody, marriage, and divorce. The law is only applicable to the Sunni population as Shiite clerics and lawmakers opposed legislation that would have applied to Shiite courts. Personal status matters for non-Muslims are governed by civil courts.

The constitution provides equal rights to women and men (Articles 1 and 5) and bans discrimination of gender, but only as long as it does not conflict with Islamic law, and in practice family law does discriminate against women. Since 2007, a minimum age of marriage has been defined for boys at the age of 18 and for girls at the age of 15. After a divorce fathers are favored in matters of child custody. A husband is legally recognized as the guardian of his wife and has authority to decide about marriage of their children. Women inherit less than male heirs. Muslim men are allowed to marry Jewish or Christian women, but Muslim women can only marry Muslim men. Shiite men can sign a temporary Muta’a marriage with non-Muslim women, women do not have this option. Widows of Muta’a marriages can not inherit from their deceased husbands. Women are not able to obtain a divorce unless a clause allowing her has been included in the marriages contract, men can initiate a divorce. For women the only option to obtain a divorce is the Islamic principle of “khula” divorce, if she forfeits all future financial support from her ex-husband and her dowry.

The penal code contains no laws against domestic violence and it is seldom reported to the police. The testimony of female witnesses counts the half of a male witness. In case of rape, the rapist can avoid punishment by marrying his victim. Spousal rape is not criminalized. Sexual harassment is outlawed in the penal code, although it is framed in terms of protecting “honour” rather than women’s rights. Victims of secual harassment lack societal support and many women do not report it, fearing shame and negative impact on their careers. Adultery is illegal for both sexes.

Women are legally free to travel abroad, however, some women still feel pressured to ask for the permission of the male head of the household.

Homosexuality is a criminal offence.

Shia community members stated that they face discrimination in a variety of sectors. They are believed to have a higher unemployment rate and Sunni Muslims seem to be favored in high positions. The government’s naturalization and citizenship processes discriminates against Shiites.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values


By declaring Islam as the state religion and Islamic law as the source of legislation, the constitution implies that Muslims are forbidden to change their religion. The constitution imposes no explicit restrictions on non-Muslims’ right to choose, change, or practice their religion or belief, including the study, discussion, and promulgation of those beliefs. However, societal pressure reinforces the Islamic principle, which forbids the conversion from Islam.


Articles 309 and 310 of the penal code criminalize “any method of expression” against a religious community, or ridiculing religious beliefs:

“a punishment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding BD 100 shall be inflicted upon any person who commits an offence by any method of expression against one of the recognized religious communities or ridicules the rituals thereof”.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic media, and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion for offense and criticism.” The law states that “any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion, public morals or any faith in a manner likely to disturb the peace, can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.” The law allows the production and distribution of religious media and publications of minority groups, under condition that they do not criticize Islam.

Broader government oppression

Over the past several years the Bahraini authorities have arrested hundreds of Shiite activists and pro-democracy demonstrators. Many have been tortured and tried by military courts. Leaders including Hasan Mushaima, Abduljalil al-Singace, Ibrahim Sharif, and Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja were sentenced to life in prison.The sectarian dimension of the political uprising resulted in substantial intra-Muslim conflict, including government attacks on Shiite religious buildings and the violent oppression of Shiite protestors. The government crackdown also extended to journalists and bloggers who reported on the reform movement and the brutal government response. The government also arrested medical personnel who treated injured protesters. Thousands of people were fired from their jobs for supporting the protests.

The government owns all television and radio broadcasters. The government-run TV station broadcasts Sunni friday sermons, but no Shia sermons. The government also bans and blocks access to websites deemed critical of government policy. Following the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the authorities have done everything in their power to control the flow of information about the protests. Suppression of free expression and the media include: the interrogation and expulsion of foreign journalists; intimidation of those willing to be interviewed by the foreign media; harassment and prosecution of those who campaign for freedom of expression; and arrests of photographers, bloggers and netizens.

Highlighted cases

In August, 2012, a Bahraini court sentenced a man (name unknown) to two years in prison for making insulting comments about one of the Prophet Mohammad’s wives. The man reportedly insulted Aisha in comments online.

In October 2014 some reports stated that the government had started a campaign of arrests against activists using Twitter and accused them of defamation or insulting figures of Islam.

In March 2015 the Lebanese feminist poet and journalist Joumana Haddad was banned from taking part in a cultural event in Bahrain, due to accusations that she would promote atheism and target Islamic values.

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