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Arrest of a U.S. Citizen
Updated: May 8, 2023

U.S. citizens are subject to a foreign country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the same protections available under U.S. law.  Persons violating the law in a foreign country, even unknowingly, may be expelled, fined, arrested, or imprisoned.  If arrested abroad, U.S. citizens must go through the foreign legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, and possibly convicted and sentenced. Holding a U.S. passport does not grant any special privileges, and U.S. citizens do not receive preferential treatment in detention.

If you are arrested in Bahrain, ask police or prison authorities to contact the U.S. embassy immediately.

The Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., is the point of contact for family members in the United States who are concerned about an American citizen family member who has been arrested abroad.  You can reach OCS by calling 1-888-407-4747.

More information at the Department of State’s travel.state.gov website can be found here.

What to Expect: Local Judicial Process

If you are arrested in Bahrain, and the initial arrest officer does not acquit/release you, you will be held in a local police station or at the Criminal Investigatory Directorate (CID) and taken to the office of the public prosecutor within 48 hours for a hearing. You are permitted, but not required, to have a lawyer present for this initial hearing.

If your arrest occurs over the weekend (Friday-Saturday), you will remain in police custody until government offices open on the next business day.

Misdemeanors:  The public prosecutor may release you with a fine; however, if the public prosecutor judges that there is credible cause to believe a crime has been committed, the Minor Court will issue a seven-day detention order to permit the police to continue their investigation.

At that point, men will be taken to the Dry Docks Detention Center and women, to the Isa Town Detention Center. Before the seven days are up, the public prosecutor can either:

  • request that the court extend the sentence for a period or consecutive periods not to exceed 45 days, or
  • authorize your release with or without bail.

By the end of the detention period, the prosecutor must either ask the court for a formal indictment or release you. For misdemeanor charges, pre-sentencing detention should not exceed six months.

Felony charges: If accused of a felony, you must be represented by a lawyer.  Lawyers must present themselves to the court at least four days prior to the hearing.  If you do not have legal representation, the court will appoint a lawyer. For a list of attorneys in Bahrain that speak both English and Arabic, please see our legal assistance webpage. For felony charges, pre-sentencing detention can be extended for up to 12 months while investigation continues.

Do not expect a speedy resolution to trial in Bahrain. Court sessions are often postponed, and subsequent sessions may be scheduled for weeks later.  Sessions last from a few minutes to several hours.

Additional detention: If the court sentences you to additional detention, men are transferred to Jau Prison and women, to a post-sentencing unit of Isa Town Detention Center.  See below for more information about prison facilities in Bahrain.

Appeals: To appeal the court’s decision, file a report within fifteen days from the date of the judgment.  Submit the report via the Courts of First Instance, either in the registry of the court which issued the judgment, or before the prisoner commission.

Detention Facilities in Bahrain

Dry Docks Detention Center: This facility is for men whose criminal trials are ongoing. Detainees receive three meals a day. During the month of Ramadan, meal times are subject to fasting hours. A part-time resident physician provides medical care to detainees upon request.

All additional courtesies granted to detainees are at the discretion of Dry Docks and Ministry of Interior authorities. Typically, detainees are granted:

  • personal visits from immediate family members within specified hours;
  • donations of books, clothes, and money from visitors once vetted by prison authorities;
  • two personal phone calls per week.

Jau Detention Center: This facility is for men have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to further jail time. Conditions at Jau are more restrictive than at Dry Docks Detention Center, and they vary widely between units. Detainees receive three meals a day. During the month of Ramadan, meal times are subject to fasting hours. Jau is a uniformed facility, and prisoners are not permitted to receive or wear other clothing. A resident physician provides medical care to detainees upon request.

Typically, detainees are granted:

  • personal visits from immediate family members within specified hours
  • donations of books once vetted by prison authorities

Isa Town Detention Center: This facility is for women whose criminal trials are ongoing, as well as those convicted of a crime. Isa Town is a uniformed facility.

Typically, detainees and prisoners are granted:

  • phone calls within specified hours
  • personal visits from immediate family members within specified hours

The Embassy’s Role

Both U.S. regulation and international treaty limit the Embassy’s role with respect to a U.S. citizen who is detained in a foreign country. Consular officials will attempt to ensure that your treatment is fair and respects basic human rights.  We do this by visiting you in custody and observing your treatment and conditions. Where violations are suspected, we bring them to the attention of appropriate officials or lodge formal protests.  We can generally only ask that you are treated equally, consistently and in like manner to a Bahraini.  The level of comfort and rights may be significantly less than a U.S. citizen arrestee might expect.

The Embassy can assist you in the following ways:

  • Visit you in jail after being notified of your arrest to check on your health and the treatment accorded you by the police. One or more follow-up visits may be granted when necessary, at the discretion of consular officials. If you are convicted of a crime and sentenced to additional jail time, you may expect a visit from a consular official every six to nine months.
  • Give you a list of local English-speaking attorneys (though you are responsible for paying any lawyer fees).
  • Make sure prison officials are aware of any medical conditions you have (diabetes, allergies, etc.), and request that you be seen by a doctor.
  • Work with local authorities to ensure your rights under Bahraini law are fully observed, to include protesting any mistreatment or abuse.
  • Supply you with reading material, subject to prison regulations.
  • Notify your family and friends of your arrest and relay requests for assistance, provided you authorize the consul to do so through the Privacy Act Waiver (more below).

However, the Embassy cannot do the following:

  • Seek your release or post bail for you.
  • Guarantee your comfort.
  • Act as your attorney, offer legal advice, or represent you before a Bahraini legal or governmental authority.
  • Provide translation services for your court sessions.
  • Shop for personal items to be used in prison.
  • Provide money to buy items at the prison commissary.

Contacting Family and Friends

If you want the Embassy to notify your family or friends of your arrest, we need your written permission through Form DS-5505 (this is your Privacy Act Waiver) which a consular officer will bring for your signature in detention.   We can relay messages to and from interested parties in the US, subject to the restrictions you direct pursuant to the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-579) was enacted to protect U.S. citizens against unauthorized release of information about them by the government.