Bahrain – Whistleblowing Protection, Overview

1. Background

On 5 October 2010, Bahrain ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (the UNCAC) by virtue of Decree no. 7/2010.

In 2011, Bahrain experienced a weeklong uprising as part of the wider Arab Spring. The protesters were eventually brutally supressed by the Bahrain Government, and the protest was the climactic result of a broader period of political deterioration that had been underway for more than five years1.

In 2013, Bahrain ranked 57 out of 177 countries on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index2.

2. Present legal environment

Generally, Bahrain lacks publicly available information regarding whistleblowers and reporting avenues for wrongdoing.

a. Public sector

No legislation exists to protect whistleblowers in the Bahraini public sector.
Under Article 186 of the Bahraini Penal Code it is a criminal offence:
“for a civil servant, or officer who is entrusted with a public duty, to request or accept for himself or for others a gift or privilege of any kind – or to accept a promise of the same – in exchange for performing, or refraining from performance of, his official duties.”3

Public workers found to be in violation of Article 186 could potentially face a prison sentence of 5-10 years, and financial penalties.

Additionally, the Penal Code provides, under Article 190, that anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly offering a bribe to a public servant or an officer who is entrusted with a public duty, regardless of acceptance of the offer, will face fines and a imprisonment for a minimum of three years. Penal Code Article 192 also provides for confiscation of the bribe.

In October 2013, it was reported4 that Bahrain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, presented a memorandum at a cabinet meeting, which contained draft legislation designed to combat corruption. The legislation reportedly addresses bribing of public servants, embezzlement and/or causing loss of public finances, however a ministerial committee for review will need to further debate the draft prior to it being enacted. It is as yet unclear whether the legislation will provide any protection for whistleblowers.

b. Private sector

No legislation exists to provide protection for whistleblowers in the Bahraini private sector. The bank sector alone provides some form of protection, with the majority of the major banks possessing internal policies that provide protection for whistleblowers. For instance, the both Central Bank of Bahrain and the National Bank of Bahrain—along with others—have implemented their own corporate governance protocols that permit staff disclosure5.

The principles of the national charter6 of the Kingdom of Bahrain provide a guarantee of freedom of press and expression, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrines are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism are not aroused.” The national charter requires that, “every citizen has the right to express his opinion, by saying or writing or by any other method of expression of opinion or personal creativity”.

In February 2013, Bahrain introduced Law No. 01/2013 to expand Amiri Decree No. 15/1976 (the enactment of the Penal Code) to address for corruption and bribery in the private sector. The provisions of the new law are considered to be stricter than the Penal Code provisions governing the public sector. The Law addresses three key areas: acceptance of a bribe, offer of a bribe, and embezzlement, and imposes prison sentences of up to 10 years, together with fines of BD500 – BD10,000 imposed at a court’s discretion. Notably the law provides generally for sentence reductions, and possible penalty exemptions for whistleblowers. As yet it remains to be seen how effectively these provision will be applied.

3. Further gaps in the law

Bahrain lacks any provisions for the protection of whistleblowers, and no legal framework exists to guarantee freedom of information.

4. Case examples of whistle blowing

No recent case examples of whistleblowing are available.

In 2006, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) dismissed unionist and labour rights defender, Abbas Al-Omran, from their employ. It was reported that Al-Omran’s dismissal was connected to him blowing the whistle on corruption within the company7.

On 13 September 2006, Bahrain officials arrested Dr Salah Al Bandar—a British citizen of Sudanese origin—and subsequently deported him to London, for distributing a report that revealed a conspiracy to supress the Shia in Bahrain. The ensuing scandal was dubbed Bandargate.

5. Information environment

Bahrain ranked very poorly on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2013, coming in at 165 out of 179 countries on the index8. Since the 2011 uprising there have been multiple instances of journalists, bloggers and photographers being arrested and charged—and in some cases tortured—over their coverage of Bahraini events9. As of February 2014 these cases are still before the courts.

No legal guarantees to freedom of information exist in Bahrain. On 5 January 2010 the Bahraini Council of Representatives adopted a draft access to information law and sent the bill to the Shura Council10.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed under Article 24 of Bahrain’s Constitution.

As previously mentioned, in 2011 Bahrain experienced an uprising as part of the Arab Spring, which was supressed by violent and brutal force. Despite Articles 23 and 24 of the Bahrain’s Constitution—which guarantee speech and press freedom—the government used the 2002 Press Law to restrict the rights of the media attempting to cover the 2011 uprising. The Press Law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for publishing criticism of Islam or the King, inciting actions that undermine state security, or advocating a change in government11. In all 31 separate offenses are outlined in the 2002 Press Law, each is punishable by imprisonment or fine.

Foreign and freelance journalists were threatened, during the 2011 uprising, with violence and persecution. Many were also refused visas to enter, or asked to leave, the country. A number of journalists were forcibly exiled, due to their refusal to keep quiet or propagate the government’s position. Many of these journalists face ongoing harassment on social media12.

The Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS) is the first and only Bahraini non-governmental organization focusing on promoting transparency and fighting corruption.

The BHRS (Bahrain Human Rights Society) is the main independent, licensed human rights organization in the country.

6. Citizen participation

Apart from the weeklong uprising as part of the Arab Spring, which was brutally quashed, citizen participation is rare and negligible.

7. Rule of Law

Bahrain is a hereditary constitutional monarchy headed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Prior to 2002 Bahrain was an Emirate.

Article 32 of the Bahraini Constitution ensures separation of power. However, the power imbalance between the executive, legislative and judicial branches has led to multiple deficiencies. The executive is supreme in its abilities, outweighing those of the other branches. The Bahraini Parliament’s power to hold Government accountable is limited. Parliament has the right to propose legislation, however drafting remains the responsibility of the Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission—a government body. Additionally, the upper chamber of the National Assembly (known as the Shura-Council), is appointed by the King. The King also appoints judges and military commanders. The judicial system lack efficiency and independence, and it has limited ability to control the government and enforce the rule of law13.

Today, King Hamad enjoys by right full power to appoint all officers of the State, including all judges and military commanders, with the exception of the elected members of the lower house of parliament, the Council of Representatives (Majlic al- Nuwwab).

Last modified: February 4 2014.


1 2 http://www.transparency.org/country#BHR

3 http://www.blakes.com/English/Resources/Bulletins/Pages/Details.aspx?BulletinID=1709

4 http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Bahrain+deliberating+new+laws+to+combat+bribery+and+corruption.-a0348420491

5 http://www.ugbbh.com/Compliance%20DC%20Whistleblowing%20policy_11%2010%2006.pdf

6 Article 23 of the Constitution of Bahrain http://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ba00000_.html

7 https://ifex.org/bahrain/2008/10/07/oil_company_whistleblower_dismissed/

8 http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html

9 http://en.rsf.org/bahrain-detained-journalists-and-bloggers-30-01-2014,45809.html

10 http://www.alnabanews.com/node/3856

11 http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2012/bahrain#.Uu9vdfaIm2w

12 http://bakerinstitute.org/publications/ITP-pub-CyberactivismAndWomen-051

13 http://www.bti-project.de/uploads/tx_jpdownloads/BTI_2014_Bahrain.pdf