Bahrain: Life Sentences against 7 activists in the “Ma'ameer” Case after an Unjust Trial
The Use of Excessive Force against the Defendants and their Families in the Courtroom and its Surroundings
The Sentence is Based on the Anti-Terrorism Law that has been Internationally Condemned
The Court Bases its Sentence on Confessions taken under Torture and Testimonies of Security Officers which do not prove the Charges
The Defendant Kumail Hussein and the signs of torture on his face and hands
11 July 2010
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern for the recent developments in what is known as the Ma'ameer case and the violent incidents which accompanied the verdict. Contrary to the expectations, the High Criminal Court issued a ruling on Monday 5 July 2010 which convicts seven individuals from the village of Ma'ameer, and sentenced them to life imprisonment on the charge of causing the killing of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, a Pakistani national 58 years old on 7 March 2009, and who died two weeks after his car was burnt during security confrontations in the village of Ma'ameer. This trial strikes a lot of doubt in its integrity and independency, where the trial was based on the internationally condemned anti-terrorism law, disregarding all the pleas presented by the Defense of the defendants, among them the allegations of extracting confessions under torture and abuse, which was raised by the defendants, their lawyers and the human rights organizations. The BCHR also expresses its concern for the use of excessive force against the defendants and their families, men and women, inside and outside the courtyard by the Security Special Forces which is made up of foreign nationalities.
The Prosecution had charged the defendants with accusations that varied between illegal gathering, arson which led to the death of Sheikh Mohammed Riyad at Salmaniya Medical Complex, two weeks after the incident, where he died due to the burns. The Prosecution claims he had suffered burns after throwing a Molotov cocktail on his car while he was passing through the area of Ma'ameer which was witnessing protests at that time.
At a time where the BCHR expresses its deep regret for the death of the Pakistani national Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, which is a flagrant violation of his right to life, the BCHR believes that Riyad was not the a target himself, he was rather the victim of the security confrontations and the protest witnessed in the Bahraini villages and areas. According to the pleas of the defendants, they were innocent and according to the lawyers, the direct cause of death may be due to his attempt to save an amount of money in the car that was set to fire. The lawyers also provided evidence that indicates that there was negligence during the treatment period.
The Defense decided to challenge the ruling and appeal against the court's decision which completely neglected the torture allegations at a time when there was clear evidence of torture, and they were submitted to court and supported with photographs. This is in addition to the forensic report, and the testimonies of the inmates who witnessed the torture the defendants were subjected to. The Judge refused to form an independent medical committee to look into the torture allegations or to hand over a copy of the forensic report to the Defense. The Defense's request to summon the medical examiner to identify the reasons behind the death of the victim was refused.
Violating the Defendants Right during the Arrest, Interrogation and Trial
The defendants' lawyer protested to the court against the procedures used to detain the defendants in the Criminal Investigation Prison, and interrogating them in the absence of their lawyers by the police officers or by the investigating Public Prosecutor later. Rarely – as in this case – do the defendants get caught red-handed. Usually in the days following the incident arrest campaigns are made based on the set lists of the National Security Apparatus which often target the activists and opponents. The defendants in this case were detained in isolation of the outside world and their lawyers, and they were questioned for long hours until midnight, then they were presented to court which did not put any consideration to discrepancy in the legal procedures or in the torture allegations. It, on the other hand, based its verdicts on the confessions taken under torture, and which the defendants denied before court. The court also depended on the testimonies of the security men whose statements were inconsistent and who did not testify to identifying the defendants while committing the alleged crime. As well, the court did not even accept the statements of the defense witnesses. The court sentenced all the defendants with the same verdict (life sentence) without specifying the degree of responsibility of each one of them for the alleged crime, as is the norm in such cases.
Arresting the defendants and interrogating them coincided with a campaign to condemn and incite hatred, carried out by the ore government media against those defendants, and it worked on politically employing the incident to smear the image of the political opposition and activists and to push for a prior conviction against the defendants before issuing the verdicts.
Systematic Torture to Extract Confessions
Many of the defendants' families confirmed to the BCHR that since the moment of the arrest of their children in March 2009, they were subjected to immense violations and systematic torture in order to extract confessions from them. The BCHR obtained some photographs that support the credibility of these allegations. The Defense team confirmed that their clients were subjected to torture in order for them to state things they did not commit. Among the torture methods the defendants were subjected to, and which was indicated by the Defense in the pleading submitted to the court in the session dated on 23 May 2010, as well as in the statements obtained by the BCHR from the families of the defendants: beating on all parts of the body with solid tools, at a time when the defendants were blindfolded and handcuffed, spraying burning material on the face, attempting to sexually abuse them or threatening to sexually abuse the wife, sister or mother, or by inserting iron pipes in their hind to fill their stomachs with water if they do not state the accusations they were charged with, and throwing one of them off the stairs while being handcuffed, and their relatives were prevented from visiting them for a period that exceeded the first eight months.
The allegations of torture against the defendants in security cases, or in the demonstrations and protests with political backgrounds witnessed in the Bahraini villages and cities have increased in the last years. The courts, however, do not usually accept those allegations in their final rulings, yet they base their rulings on the confessions that are perhaps taken under torture and coercion, and which the defendants immediately deny when presented to the court judge. The court judges also depend on the testimonies of the security men and especially from the Special Forces who are one of the reasons for these protests and a party in the crisis, and who were brought from some Arabic and Asian countries to suppress these continuous protests in the Bahraini villages and areas. Last February, the Human Rights Watch released a report that addresses the systematic torture against the detainees in the prisons of Bahrain, when they are questioned and interrogated. However, the Bahraini Authorities disregarded that report and the sources of concern it raised. They also disregarded numerous recommendations released by the local and international human rights institutions about torture in Bahrain, including the sources of concern raised by the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) in 2005, and the recommendations the government is called for. Bahrain was supposed to submit its next report to the same committee in 2007; however the Bahraini Authorities did not comply with their international obligations towards these mechanisms to fight torture.
The Use of Excessive Force and Shotgun (internationally forbidden) to Confront the Protestors
As soon as the Judge declared the sentence that convicts the defendants, the voices of the defendants rose in protest against the sentence, and the cries of their families in sorrow for the conviction which made the members of the Special Forces, affiliated with the National Security Apparatus, and who were present in the court, attack the defendants and abuse them and their family members, and to severely beat them with sticks and rods and kick them. These assaults caused many injuries and cases of fainting among the relatives, and the lawyer Balqees Al-Manami was taken to hospital as a result of being beaten by these Forces. These scenes happened in front of the people, some journalists working in the local newspapers, local and international observers; among them the delegate of the British Lawyers Association and another from the London-Based Islamic Human Rights Commission, and which later released a report about the views of its delegate while observing the trial and the assaults of the Special Forces against the detainees and their families.
Later, the relatives were chased and beaten in the streets and alleys of the Diplomatic area where the court building is, by the use of rubber bullets and teargas. The clashes developed to reach and spread in several Bahraini villages which witnessed wide protests on the day of issuing the sentence. The BCHR was informed of the injury of one of the citizens with more than 20 splinters by fire (shotgun) by these Forces in the area of Bilad-al-Qadeem, and he was entered in the recovery room in Salmaniya Medical Complex.
The Verdict is Based on the Internationally Condemned Anti-Terrorism Law
The defendants were trialed based on the Bahraini anti-terrorism law, and which is the law that has been condemned by many international organizations, among them the United Nations, due to lacking the minimum standards of human rights. This law was used, since its issuance, against the political activists or human rights defenders, and to suppress the peaceful protest movement which started to escalate in the last years, and which demand the reform of the democratic process, and which calls for setting down immediate solutions to the increasing deterioration in the living conditions for more than half the citizens, and the increase of unemployment and the housing crisis and the systematic discrimination, and the spread of financial and administrative corruption. Despite the clarifications released by the Authority that the bill submitted by the government to the Parliament is to limit the terrorism coming from the outside, it in reality and after the law was approved was proven to be the opposite, where the laws' articles were phrased in a broad manner that enables the Authority to misuse it to restrict public liberties and to intimidate those it considers to be its opponents of political activists or human rights defenders, to stop their activity and to subject them to excessive penalties.
Security-wise Treatment to Solve the Political and Human Rights Crisis
The BCHR had expressed earlier its regret for the death of the Asian victim Sheikh Mohammed Riyad, which comes among a series of incidents of violence and clashes between the Special Security Forces – and an increasing group of protestors who are active at the entrances of the villages in various areas of Bahrain, where they set fire to car tires and garbage containers, and some of them throw stones or Molotov Cocktails at the Special Security Forces, after the latter would fire teargas on the areas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. This comes as a result of the congestion of the political and security conditions in Bahrain, and the ever-growing decline in the rights and liberties, and the escalation of the sectarian discrimination by the State against the Shiite sect. The Authority, and instead of working on changing its policy to resolve those outstanding problems that are causing the crisis through dialogue, it turns to security solutions by bringing more foreign forces from abroad to suppress these protests, and through the continuous arrests, and the political trials that have become clear that they only lead to more security congestion and tensions but not solutions.
For all those reasons,
the BCHR believes that these sentences are political decisions intended to intimidate the opponents and to restrain the movements of the mounting protests in the Bahraini villages and areas, and that this sentence lacks professional integrity and independency required by judicial work. Based on that, the BCHR demands:
1. An impartial and independent re-investigation in the incident that Sheikh Mohammed Riyad was subjected to and which led to his death, under an independent supervision of the relevant civil society institutions. 2. Guarantee the international standards related to arrest, interrogation and fair trial of those arrested on charges related to such an incident, to guarantee the integrity and independency of the judiciary, and to guarantee the right of the defendant to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law which meets the substantives requirements of a fair trail. 3. A fair and impartial investigation in all the allegations of torture raised by those defendants and other defendants in the cases with a political or security background, and to bring the ones responsible to trial and to redress the victims. 4. The Public Prosecution should stop interrogating the defendants in the absence of their lawyers. 5. An independent and impartial investigation in the complaints regarding the violations and transgressions, and the use of excessive force by the Special Security Forces in the courtroom in front of the international observers, and then in the areas that witnessed the protests, and to hold accountable the ones involved and to bring them to fair and impartial justice. 6. Put an end to the policy of the use of foreigners in the State Security Apparatuses and especially the ones dealing security-wise with the citizens, and to stop risking their safety and the safety of others by using them in areas of protests in civilian clothes and cars. 7. Put an end to the policy of employing the security incidents in smearing the reputation of the activists and human rights defenders and hindering their work and pursuing them. 8. Treat the causes of the political and security congestions that the country is going through by stopping the policy of systematic sectarian discrimination, and to guarantee the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all citizens.
References: IHRC Report Video of the events outside the court BCHR statement on the anti-terrorism law International Amnesty Statement on the anti-terrorism law Front Line Statement on the anti-terrorism law UN Statement on the anti-terrorism law