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NGOs Commemorate the Five-Year Anniversary of Bahrain’s Peaceful Uprising

Five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets to call for democratic reform and an end to discriminatory government policies. The Government of Bahrain responded violently, deploying security forces who used excessive force to quell peaceful protests.  Their tactics have resulted in thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths since 2011. On the fifth anniversary of the protest movement that began that day, 14 February 2011, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) call on the Government of Bahrain to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and to refrain from using force to suppress non-violent demonstrations. We also urge the Bahraini government to immediately release all arbitrarily detained political prisoners and human rights defenders and for all in Bahrain to unequivocally reject violence.

In the five years since Bahraini authorities violently suppressed the 2011 demonstrations, the political situation has not improved. Following the original protests, the government established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a committee of jurists and legal scholars tasked with investigating crimes committed by the authorities and suggesting the reforms necessary to resolve the country’s political crisis. Almost half a decade later, however, no more than five of the BICI’s 26 recommendations have been fully implemented. As documented in Shattering the Façade, a report released by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD in 2015, the Government of Bahrain has not only failed to institute the most substantial reforms, it has actively obscured this fact with superficial policy changes and regular declarations of “unprecedented progress.”

“When the BICI first released its report, Bahrainis were hopeful. They saw it as a potential roadmap out of oppression, discrimination, and corruption,” Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice President of the BCHR, remembers. “Now, the BICI is a constant reminder of what could have been – the justice and freedom that the government refuses to grant its people.” 

Rather than implement its commitment to reconciliation, the Government of Bahrain has retrenched, coming to rely more and more on the same repressive security measures condemned in the BICI report. In the last four months of 2015, Bahraini authorities arrested more than 400 people, 76 percent of which were arrested arbitrarily or unlawfully. At the same time, ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have documented a pattern of enforced disappearance, due process violations, and severe torture within the Bahraini criminal justice system, finding evidence of the use of systematic torture between 2011 and 2015.

“Despite its claims to the contrary, the government has effectively abandoned truth and reconciliation for violence and intimidation,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Advocacy Director of BIRD. “The security forces may not be killing protesters in the streets – as they have in years past – but it’s only because they’ve honed their practices of arbitrary detention, disappearance and torture.”

The government’s recurrent failure to address the political crisis is embodied in the aftermath of the March 2015 riot at Jau Prison, a detention facility that holds hundreds of the country’s political prisoners.  After a minority of prisoners rioted over the facility’s overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, security forces subjected inmates to mass psychological and physical abuse. Less than a month ago, in the face of mounting evidence collective punishment, abuse, and due process violations at Jau, a Bahraini court sentenced 57 of these inmates to additional 15-year jail terms for offenses such as “resisting authorities” and “damaging public property.”

“The government has made clear its intentions to double down on the repressive measures it used to suppress democracy five years ago, not reform them,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “To avoid a relapse into the same unrest and instability, the Government of Bahrain must immediately change its reckless course.”

“In light of the ongoing violations, Bahrain’s continuing claims of reform are a gamble on the nation’s reputation,” stated Hugh Ali, Executive Director of JHRO. “We call for joint efforts in order to provide international guarantees to the people of Bahrain towards the exercise their legitimate rights as per the international conventions and treaties.”

 

 

 

Bahrain: An Analysis of the Legitimacy of Charges Against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman

Download the Full Report Here.

On January 6, 2016, Bahrain’s authorities charged Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, a human rights defender and cleric, with incitement of hatred towards the system of government and expressing views on an ongoing trial with the intent to change public opinion. The charges were based on a speech Sheikh Maytham delivered on December 27, 2015, at a public event held in solidarity with Al-Wefaq’s imprisoned Security General, Sheikh Ali Salman. This legal statement is concerned with the legitimacy of the charges laid by the authorities of Bahrain against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman. This review was prompted by the repeated use of such or similar charges against human rights defenders and political opponents, including Sheikh Maythan himself.

The statement analyses the charges in line with international human rights standards and jurisprudence related to freedom of expression. Under international law, freedom of expression may only be restricted it the restrictions satisfy a three-part test: a) legality, b) legitimate grounds and c) necessity and proportionality. Accordingly, this statement analyses whether the charges (incitement and contempt of court) against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman meet the three-part test. This statement also reviews the circumstances surrounding Sheikh Maytham Al Salman detention and charges.

On the basis of a thorough discussion of international, regional and national jurisprudence, this statement concludes that the charges of incitement to hatred against the system of government and of expressing views on an on-going trial fail both the legality and the necessity test. The statement also finds that Bahrain’s Government, by subjecting Sheikh Maytham Al Salman to repeated detention, interrogation and unsubstantiated charges, is creating in terrorem conditions, aimed at instilling fears and self-censorship, and amounting to harassment.

In conclusion, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression calls on the authorities of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Sheikh Maytham Al Salman and put an end to its harassment of the human rights defender and inter-faith activist.

This Legal Statement received international support from freedom of expression scholars, lawyers, and activists. The Signatories list is live and new signatories are added as the come in.

SIGNATORIES:

Galina Arapova, Director, Senior Media Lawyer, Mass Media Defence Centre, RUSSIA

Catherine Anite, Head of Legal Department, Media Lawyer, UGANDA

Romel Regalado Bagares, esq., Executive Director, Center for International Law, PHILIPPINES 

Samir Behmeda, Lawyer and Member, Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, TUNISIA

Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director, Software Freedom Law Center, Lawyer, INDIA

Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University, U.S.A

R. Dipendra, Media Defence Lawyer, MALAYSIA

Taís Gasparian, Lawyer at RODRIGUES BARBOSA, MAC DOWELL DE FIGUEIREDO, GASPARIAN, BRAZIL

Charles Glasser*, Lawyer, Adjunct Professor of Media Ethics and Law, Arthur Carter Graduate School of Journalism, New York University, U.S.A

David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, ARTICLE 19, UNITED KINGDOM

Dr. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director, Free Expression Programs, PEN America, U.S.A.

Gregg P. Leslie, Legal Defense Director, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, U.S.A

Catalina Botero Marino, Lawyer, Professor at the Universidad Externado Law School, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2008-2015), COLOMBIA

Peter Noorlander, Chief Executive Officer, Media Legal Defense Initiative, UNITED KINGDOM 

Karuna Nundy, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, INDIA 

Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes for All, PAKISTAN

Carey Shenkman, First Amendment and Human Rights Lawyer for Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, U.S.A.

David A. Schulz, Director, Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic, Law School, Yale University, U.S.A.

Damian Tambini, Associate Professor, London School of Economics, UNITED KINGDOM

Dr. Dirk Voorhoof, Professor of Media Law, Ghent University, BELGIUM

Richard N. Winfield, Lecturer in Law, Law School, Colombia University, U.S.A.

*AFFILIATIONS ARE FOR PURPOSES OF IDENTIFICATION, NOT NECESSARILY INSTITUTIONAL ENDORSEMENT

Signatories list was last updated on February 11, 2015 at 3:30 PM EST.

 

Link to the Statement Here.

Analysis: Arbitrary and Unlawful Arrests in Bahrain

During the last four months of 2015, Bahraini authorities made over 400 arrests, averaging roughly 105 arrests per month. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) have collected and analyzed data on this recent wave of arrests, finding that police officials consistently acted in contravention of international law. In the vast majority of cases, arresting officers failed to provide a warrant or a reason for detention; and arrestees reported having been subjected to excessive force, ill treatment, and torture.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bahrain acceded in 2006, requires state security forces to observe certain guidelines when undertaking arrests in order to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected. Article 9 of the ICCPR states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention,” and that “anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” Of the hundreds of arrests recorded by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD during the 16-week documentation period, 76 percent failed to meet these standards. The data suggests that for Bahrain's security forces, adherence to the ICCPR is increasingly becoming the exception, not the rule.

Note: The following analysis is based on data independently collected by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD. Unless otherwise specified, it refers only to the actions of Bahraini security forces from 31 August 2015 to 31 December 2015.

The Data Set

Over the course of four months, ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD tracked the number of arrests effected by Bahraini authorities, recording the legality and circumstance of each case. We found that government forces detained at least 421 individuals, including 53 minors. Additionally, we found that eight distinct circumstances accounted for 95 percent of arrests, listed as follows in order of frequency: house raids, streets and public spaces, prisons, checkpoints and travel hubs, courts, hospitals, traffic offices, and formal court summons (see Figure 1). For clarity, the circumstances of arrest will hereafter be referred to as the arrest category.

The data indicates that Bahraini security forces effected 219 arrests during raids on private homes, representing more than half the total number of documented arrests and the highest number of arrests in a single category. The next most common categories of arrest were public spaces with 76 arrests, checkpoints and travel hubs with 53 arrests (particularly those checkpoints along the King Fahd Causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which accounted for 39 percent of all checkpoint and travel hubs arrests), and court summons with 30 arrests.

Altogether, security forces carried out 76 percent of the 421 total documented arrests in violation of Article 19 of the ICCPR, resulting in the unlawful detention of at least 319 individuals.

Unlawful Arrests

House Raids 

Arrests during raids on private homes accounted for not only the vast majority of illegal arrests, but the majority of total arrests as well. According to the data collected by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD, Bahraini authorities made 197 out of 219 of these arrests illegally, indicating that 90 percent of all house raid arrests were unlawful. Moreover, unlawful house raid arrests accounted for up to 52 percent of all arrests conducted during the documentation period.  In other words, one in every two people arrested in Bahrain during the documentation period was illegally arrested in his own home.

Testimony provided to ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD by witnesses and victims suggests that house raids typically followed a pattern. Security forces often conducted house raids suddenly and at night. At the start of a raid, police officials reportedly surrounded and entered the target home without warning. Once they gained entrance, the authorities searched the house, arresting one or more residents and/or confiscating personal property. During the house raids that occurred in the documentation period, security forces rarely presented an arrest or search warrant.

After they had taken one or more individuals into custody, the authorities commonly transported the detainee(s) to a Ministry of Interior facility such as a police station or an office of the Criminal Investigative Directorate (CID). Arrestees and witnesses regularly reported having been subjected to physical or verbal abuse during house raids, as well as in the processes of arrest and transportation.

Checkpoints and Travel Hubs

Checkpoints and travel hubs are tied with streets and public spaces as the second most common site of unlawful arrests, with security forces carrying out at least 46 during the documentation period.  Specifically, the authorities carried out 21 unlawful arrests on the King Fahd Causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, 15 unlawful arrests at the Bahrain International Airport, and 10 unlawful arrests at other checkpoints. In total, these 46 unlawful arrests represent 87 percent of all arrests carried out at travel hubs and/or via checkpoint stops during the documentation period, as well as 11 percent of total arrests.

Individuals detained at checkpoints and travel hubs reported that arresting officers rarely informed them of a reason for their arrest. Virtually all arrests on the causeway and at the airport failed to meet the standards laid out in Article 9 of the ICCPR, while only 41 percent of miscellaneous checkpoint arrests were conducted in accordance with its provisions.  

Streets and Public Spaces

As noted, streets and public spaces tied with checkpoints and travel hubs for the second-highest number of unlawful arrests, at 46. The data indicates that 60 percent of all street arrests conducted by the authorities failed to meet the standards of the ICCPR.

Witnesses and arrestees reported that Bahraini security personnel generally undertook street arrests either at random, while on patrol, or during targeted sweeps of areas commonly used to hold demonstrations. In the majority of these cases, the authorities failed to provide a warrant or any reason for arrest. A number of these individuals also reported that the arresting officers employed excessive force.

Additional Human Rights Abuses

Individuals that have been unlawfully or arbitrarily detained by the authorities are at a heightened risk of experiencing further human rights and due process violations as they progress through the Bahraini criminal justice system. Arrestees reported to ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD that security personnel physically and verbally abused them during and after their arrests. They described being beaten with batons and wooden sticks as well as being kicked and punched. The authorities also subjected a number of arrestees to enforced disappearance for periods ranging from several hours to up to three weeks. During this period, government officials reportedly interrogated the accused without any legal representation. As such, the inherently extrajudicial nature of unlawful and arbitrary arrests contributes to broader violations of due process, infringing on the right of the accused to a fair trial.

Conclusion 

According to our findings, Bahraini state security forces consistently violated international guidelines for arrests during the period between 31 August and 31 December 2015: only 24 percent of the arrests conducted during these 16 weeks were conducted in accordance with international law. Although Bahraini legislation ostensibly guarantees the rights to individual liberty and security of person, the data suggests that Bahraini authorities regularly flout their domestic legal obligations. Additional human rights and due process violations associated with arbitrary detention only aggravate these routine abuses of power. That the agents of Bahraini law enforcement so frequently violate their domestic and international obligations not only undermines the rule of law; it leaves the country’s most vulnerable citizens little recourse for justice.   

 

-Read the French version of this article here.

From the Ground: Torture Systematic in Bahrain

Since October 2013, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has regularly received complaints regarding individual allegations of human rights abuses in Bahrain. Generally, these complaints contain information communicated directly from the victim or the victim’s family, and concern the victim’s treatment at the time of arrest, during detention, and – in some instances – during trial. After processing and documenting these allegations, ADHRB submits the information as a formal complaint to the Special Procedures of the United Nations.

Based on the information provided in these complaints, ADHRB, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) have compiled a comprehensive database on human rights violations in Bahrain. ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have used this data to examine the trends in arrest and detention practices employed by the Bahraini authorities. The subsequent analysis demonstrates that the Government of Bahrain has systematically violated both human rights and due process rights as a means of silencing dissent.

Note: Though the complaint program began in October 2013, the complaints received by ADHRB include information pertaining to events that occurred in 2011 and 2012. As such, the documentation period ranges from 2011 to 2015. The subsequent analysis is based on data from this period.

The Data Set

ADHRB has documented and submitted complaints to the Special Procedures of the United Nations concerning the arrest of 495 Bahraini citizens, of which at least 71 were minors at the time of their arrest.

According to the database based on these complaints, ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR have found that the authorities presented a warrant for only three of the 495 arrests. The majority of these arrests occurred at the victim’s home or at the home of a relative or friend, and 126 victims reported that the arresting forces did not present a warrant upon their arrest. Additionally, 71 victims reported that the arresting forces also conducted a search or seizure without a proper warrant. Security forces reportedly used violence during 116 of these arrests. No information was provided regarding arrest warrants for the remaining 366 victims.

The data indicates that the authorities also disappeared 89 victims following arrest. Most of these victims have reported that they were held at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) during their disappearance. These disappearances have lasted anywhere between a few hours to months, and most victims were disappeared for a period of between several days to multiple weeks.

Of the complaints submitted to the Special Procedures, ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR have recorded 370 instances of torture, almost all of which took place at the CID. While no information was provided regarding torture for 121 victims, only two of the 495 complaints specifically state that security forces did not subject the victim to torture during arrest or detainment. These two victims were, however, reportedly subjected to intimidation and harassment: security forces threatened one victim with torture, and verbally abused the other.

The data suggests that the most common method of torture used by Bahraini security forces is beating the detainees with their fists, which occurred in 275 cases. The complaints also included 154 cases of the authorities beating victims with weapons. In addition to direct physical abuse, the security forces reportedly subjected 166 victims to starvation of water and/or food, 145 to deprivation of toilet use, and 130 to forced standing. Furthermore, 98 victims have reported that Bahraini security forces threatened them with further torture during detainment, while 37 victims have reported that security forces threatened to torture or harm their family members. Other common methods of torture used by the security forces included sleep deprivation with 97 cases, deprivation of prayer with 88 cases, sectarian insults with 74 cases, electric shock with 66 cases, genital abuse with 65 cases, sexual abuse with 65 cases, stripping with 61 cases, hanging with 35 cases, and sodomization with 8 cases. Bahraini security forces also reportedly subjected 22 victims to solitary confinement during their detainment, and deprived another 45 of medical treatment (see Figure 1). Notably, the data indicates that many of the victims were subject to a variety of these methods of torture and ill treatment during their arrest or detention.

TortureMethods

As a direct result of the torture carried out by Bahraini security forces, eight victims have suffered permanent injuries. Government actions have also been responsible for the death of six victims included in the complaint data, as a result of either direct violence or deprivation of medical care.

In at least 122 instances, the methods of torture described above were used to extract false confessions from the victims. Another 23 victims have also reported that their coerced confession was used as the primary evidence for their conviction at trial. In addition, only two victims have reported that they were permitted access to an attorney during their initial investigation, while 116 victims confirmed that they were not allowed access to an attorney at that stage.

Furthermore, ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have only received one report of the Bahraini government initiating an investigation into a torture allegation included in a complaint submitted to the Special Procedures. In this case, the accused was eventually dismissed on appeal. Similarly, none of the 495 victims have reported receiving any compensation for their treatment during arrest or detainment.

Analysis

The complaint database illustrates broader trends in the arrest and detention practices of the Bahraini government. In an effort to silence dissent, the Government of Bahrain consistently employs excessive and violent measures against its own citizens. Specifically, the data indicates that the security forces continue to arbitrarily arrest, detain, torture, and even extra-judicially kill Bahraini citizens.  Moreover, a significant portion of those subjected to these systematic human rights violations have been children.

In light of the evidence gathered from these complaints, it is clear that the Government of Bahrain has engaged in a widespread program of arbitrary arrest and detention. Bahraini security forces, generally from the Ministry of Interior (MOI), commonly arrest victims from private homes without a warrant. Many of these arrests occur in the middle of the night, and they are regularly conducted with excessive force. While unlawfully present in the home, Bahraini security forces frequently conduct in-depth searches and seizures as well.

Compounding the illegality of these arrests, the authorities subject many of the victims to enforced disappearance. In most cases, government forces disappear the victim for several hours to a few weeks, although they have disappeared some victims for more than a month at a time. During disappearance, the victims are typically held incognito at the CID and prohibited from contacting family members regarding their whereabouts.

In addition to the high rates of arbitrary arrest and detention, the data clearly indicates a pattern of state-sanctioned torture. While many arrests have involved physical abuse and ill treatment, those arrested often experience further violence during detention; most allegations pertain to the conduct of Bahraini security forces at the CID. Physical beating, in particular, is widespread and common. Still, Bahraini security forces have implemented a number of different techniques to torture detainees, including such methods as sleep deprivation, temperature manipulation, hanging, electrocution, sexual abuse, and sectarian insults against Shia victims. Accordingly, the detainees often suffer from persistent and lasting effects, some of which result in permanent injury or death.

These complaints also highlight the significant due process violations that occur as a result of the arbitrary arrest and detention of Bahraini citizens. Security forces routinely extract confessions from the victims by way of torture or threat thereof. The government routinely uses these coerced confessions in the victim’s conviction and sentencing. During trial, and even more frequently during the initial investigation period, victims are often denied access to an attorney. Throughout these processes, many of the victims were unaware of the charges against them.

These systemic flaws in the Bahraini criminal justice system are aggravated by mounting evidence that the government specifically targets peaceful protestors, political dissidents, journalists, human rights defenders, and religious leaders. The authorities commonly arbitrarily arrest these individuals and then charge them with offenses such as illegal gathering, inciting hatred against the regime, engaging in terrorist activity, etc.

Violations of International Human Rights Law 

Through its actions, the Government of Bahrain knowingly and systematically violates its international human rights obligations. Specifically, the Government of Bahrain engages in widespread violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

First and foremost, in carrying out extra-judicial killings, the Government of Bahrain has violated, and continues to violate, the inherent right of all persons to life, liberty, and security as guaranteed by Article 3 of the UDHR. Similarly, Article 6 of the ICCPR expressly prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life.

Furthermore, the Government of Bahrain has engaged in a systematic and government-sponsored program of arbitrary arrest and detention in violation of international human rights law. Even more problematic is the regularity in which the Government of Bahrain engages in the forced disappearances of those whom it arbitrarily arrests and detains. As stated in Article 9 of the ICCPR and Article 9 of the UDHR, no person shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.

By targeting peaceful protestors, political dissidents, journalists, human rights defenders, and religious leaders, the Government of Bahrain is in violation of its international human rights law obligations concerning civil and political rights. In particular, Article 18 of the ICCPR and Article 18 of the UDHR protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, which also includes the right to manifest that religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching. Furthermore, Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 19 of the UDHR guarantee the right of all persons to hold opinions without interference, as well as the right to freely express that opinion. Similarly, Article 21 and 22 of the ICCPR and Article 20 of the UDHR ensure the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association. As many of the victims whose complaints were submitted to the Special Procedures were charged with arbitrary crimes, such as illegal gathering and various other crimes of conscience, it is clear that the Government of Bahrain is engaged in the systematic repression of dissent.

In addition to the use of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention targeting perceived opponents, the Government of Bahrain routinely violates various due process rights protected by the ICCPR and UDHR. By arresting the victims without informing them of the charges against them, by trying the victims in absentia, by denying the victims access to an attorney, by coercing confessions from the victims through the use of torture, and by subjecting the victims to trial by a tribunal that is complicit in the abuses, the Government of Bahrain is in violation of Article 9 and 14 of the ICCPR as well as Article 10 of the UDHR. Furthermore, by failing to provide compensation to the victims for their unlawful arrest and detention, the Government of Bahrain continues to violate Article 9 of the ICCPR and Article 8 of the UDHR.

Most evident, the Government of Bahrain engages in the systematic violation of the absolute prohibition against the use or threat of use of torture and ill treatment as prescribed by international human rights law. Article 7 of the ICCPR and Article 5 of the UDHR expressly provide, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Further, Article 10 of the ICCPR requires that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” In addition, the Government of Bahrain is engaged in a widespread violation of its obligations under the Convention against Torture (CAT). For instance, Article 2 of the CAT requires that States take measures to prevent acts of torture within their territorial jurisdiction, and no exceptional circumstance will justify the derogation from the prohibition on the use of torture. Furthermore, through Articles 4, 7, 13, 14, and 15, the CAT makes clear that States are responsible for criminalizing all acts of torture, for prosecuting and punishing perpetrators of torture, and for providing compensation to victims of torture. Thus, by failing to investigate complaints alleging torture, by not providing a proper means by which victims can file such complaints, by failing to prosecute those who are engaged in acts of torture, and by failing to provide victims with a means of redress and adequate compensation, the Government of Bahrain continues to systematically violate its obligations under the CAT.

Conclusion

Overall, the information provided by the complaint database reveals broad trends in the human rights abuses carried out by the Government of Bahrain against its own citizens. ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD find that the government is engaged in persistent, violent, and systematic repression, evidenced by widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and – in some cases – extra-judicial killing. As the authorities continue to perpetuate such violence with impunity, the human rights situation in Bahrain will likely continue to deteriorate.

Champions for Justice: Bahrain’s Pro-Democracy Movement

Five years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of people rose up in support of democracy and human rights in Bahrain. After enduring decades of structural inequalities, corruption, and repression, nearly half the country’s population gathered to demand reform. The government responded swiftly, and severely. Riot police flooded the streets, employing excessive and indiscriminate force to disperse the demonstrations and suppress the movement. Assisted by a Saudi and Emirati contingent of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Peninsula Shield Force, Bahraini authorities violently put down the peaceful uprising, leading to thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths.

Still, despite constant pressure, Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement has endured. With the fifth anniversary of the original demonstrations fast approaching, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) would like to feature the pro-democracy movement itself – every person who risked his or her safety to work towards a better future in Bahrain – as February’s Champions for Justice. This month’s installment will trace the evolution of the movement since its inception in 2011, highlighting individuals who lost their lives or their freedom to government retaliation.

Background

The Bahraini pro-democracy movement – in its current form – can trace its roots back to 2001, when the king promised to implement a series of political reforms through the National Action Charter, itself a response to the civil unrest of the 1990s. The National Action Charter was reportedly approved by 98% of Bahrain’s citizenry in a referendum on 14 February. But as years passed and the government failed to institute these reforms, popular dissatisfaction mounted.

By 2011, opposition groups and political activists in Bahrain were finding common cause with the massive demonstrations sweeping the Arab world.  For many in Bahrain, it seemed an opportune – and necessary – moment to revive the country’s longstanding pro-democracy movement; utilizing both social media networks and simple word of mouth, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis coordinated peaceful protests on the anniversary of the National Action Charter referendum a decade earlier.

Notably, while the Government of Bahrain declined to make good on its promise of reforms in the interim, it had begun to tighten its restrictions on dissent and basic free expression. In the months prior to the first demonstrations, the authorities arrested 23 people on charges of organizing a ‘terrorist network’ to overthrow the government, including prominent activists like Abduljalil al-Singace, Sheikh Mohammed al-Muqdad, and Sheikh Saeed al-Nuri. Around the same time, pro-government media accused two well-known human rights defenders, Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, of having connections with a ‘terrorist network’ and spreading false news about Bahrain. The use of terror allegations to prosecute, intimidate, and discredit reform activists and human rights defenders, and the authorities’ general conflation of terrorism with non-violent dissent, would become a staple of government repression after 2011.

February 2011

On 14 February 2011, the tenth anniversary of the National Action Charter referendum, almost half the country took to the streets of towns and villages across Bahrain to demand political reforms.  Peaceful marches and rallies called for limitations on the absolute monarchy of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, proposing the establishment of democratic institutions like an independent parliament with substantial legislative powers.

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/-MXiL3_APzs/maxresdefault.jpgThe government reacted quickly and violently. Though the protests were peaceful, security forces began firing on crowds with rubber bullets, tear gas, and reportedly even live ammunition. Ali Mushaima, a young protestor in the village of al-Daih, was the first demonstrator to be killed after witnesses say police opened fire on the crowds. The next day, security forces assaulted Mushaima’s funeral procession with tear gas and rubber bullets. The officers shot one of the attendees, Fadhel al-Matrook, who later died in the hospital.

As the authorities’ reaction turned lethal, tens of thousands of protestors gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, calling for a new democratic government and an end to the violence. In the wake of the demonstrators’ deaths, King Hamad delivered a televised speech expressing his regret and promising to launch an investigation. Still, on the night of 17 February, after the king’s speech, riot police violently attacked the protestors encamped at the Pearl Roundabout. Security forces employed tear gas and rubber bullets to forcibly disperse the demonstrators, killing five and injuring more than 50.

Ali Ahmed al-Moumen, an engineering student at the University of Bahrain, was among those killed by security forces during the raid on the Pearl Roundabout. Al-Moumen was helping medics treat wounded protestors when government forces shot him with rubber bullets. He later died of his wounds. The following year, on 27 September 2012, the Third High Criminal Court acquitted the police officer who killed al-Moumen, stating that the assault had been accidental.

Reports soon emerged that the authorities were also targeting any doctors or medical personnel who attempted to care for the wounded protesters, and were preventing ambulances from collecting the victims. Moreover, after many activists began to protest outside the Salmaniya Medical Complex, the authorities occupied the facility and harassed the staff.

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As the situation deteriorated, the king made several nominal concessions to the pro-democracy movement: three ministers were fired and the 23 people imprisoned in September 2010 on terror charges were released. Tellingly, however, the authorities re-arrested most of these same individuals after the king declared a state of emergency and requested assistance from the GCC Peninsula Shield Force in the form of Saudi and Emirati security personnel.

About a month after the first protests, the authorities demolished the monument at the center of the Pearl Roundabout as part of what The Guardian characterized as “a plan to revert central Manama to life before” the pro-democracy demonstrations. The government’s efforts notwithstanding, the Pearl Roundabout would go on to become a symbol of the reform movement in Bahrain.

February 2012

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Despite the government’s violent suppression of the uprising, pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain did not end in 2011. Protestors continued to call for reform all over the country, from the United Nations office in Manama to the Ministry of Labor. Those demonstrating at the Ministry of Labor were demanding the right to return to their jobs after being fired for participating in the protests, a subtler form of reprisal that affected Bahrainis in a variety of professions.

On the first anniversary of the revolution, security forces occupied the Pearl Roundabout and increased the number of checkpoints. The authorities continued to use excessive force to disperse protesters. They frequently effected arbitrary arrests of individuals suspected of participating in protests, or who were present in an area where protests were often held. Security forces also prevented journalists from accessing areas near ongoing protests and attempted to deny international media entry to the country.

Though the government established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to investigate human rights violations and provide recommendations for reform in the aftermath of the 2011 protests, the authorities continued to commit extensive abuses in their response to the unrest. Independent assessments of the country’s political situation in 2012 found that the government had fully implemented no more than five of the BICI’s 26 recommendations.

In October 2012, the Ministry of Interior announced a ban on all public rallies, claiming that even many authorized gatherings had violated the law of public assemblies by attacking public property and calling for the overthrow of the government. I

Moreover, in the year since the previous protests, the authorities killed at least 60 people. On 1 March 2012, 22-year-old Fadhel al-Obeidi was protesting in the village of Diraz when riot police shot him with a teargas canister.  According to witnesses, the police officers proceeded to beat him after they wounded him. A week later, Fadhel was declared brain-dead. He died on 10 March 2012.

February 2013

By the second anniversary of the original demonstrations, security forces had killed between 87 and 120 people in their campaign to suppress the pro-democracy movement, including 13 children. Still, on 14 February 2013, despite the ban on public assembly, thousands of peaceful protestors once again took to the streets. As in previous years, the government responded with excessive force; reports indicate that the authorities’ irresponsible and indiscriminate use of teargas and shotgun pellets resulted in large numbers of physical and respiratory injuries.

In the village of al-Daih, riot police shot and killed 16-year-old Hussain al-Jazeeri during a protest. Though the government launched an investigation into the incident, a court released the police officers implicated in al-Jazeeri’s death on bail several months later. By the end of 2014, the authorities announced that they had closed the investigation and were not pursuing legal action against the officers.

February 2014

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/iHykgMwoEX0/maxresdefault.jpg

In February 2014, crowds of Bahrainis again defied the prohibition on public assembly and gathered to mark the third anniversary of the movement. Risking imprisonment and torture, activists braved the increased police presence and organized demonstrations near the site of the Pearl Roundabout, which remained under the control of the security forces.

The authorities effected at least 69 unlawful arrests and dispersed the remaining demonstrators by force, causing high numbers of injuries. Many of the wounded were forced to seek medical treatment at home and in underground clinics, as they feared they would be detained at public hospitals. In the years since the security forces first occupied Salmaniya Hospital in 2011, doctors alleged that the government had effectively militarized Bahrain’s healthcare system, using hospitals as a means of monitoring activists.

In 2014, the government also promulgated legislation that outlawed criticism of the king and further criminalized free expression. According to the law, insulting the monarchy carries a penalty of a minimum seven-year prison term.

Between just January and May 2014, security forces killed at least three people, including 14-year-old Sayed Mahmood Sayed Mohsen Sayed Ahmed. Sayed was attending a funeral when security forces fired on the procession. Officers shot Sayed in the chest with shotgun pellets, killing him.

The government also targeted women’s rights activists in 2014. In September 2014, the authorities arrested Ghada Jamsheer, the head of a women’s rights group called the Women’s Petition Committee, on charges of posting “insulting tweets.” Her arrest came after she posted messages about corruption in King Hamad University Hospital, which is run by a member of the ruling family. Though she was soon released, authorities later rearrested Jamsheer only hours later on separate charges of “assaulting a police officer.” Jamsheer has had twelve cases brought against her since September 2014.

February 2015

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/Women_taking_part_in_a_pro-democracy_sit_in_in_Sitra.jpgOn the most recent anniversary of the uprising, even after four years of increased restrictions and an intensified police presence, demonstrators turned out in large numbers to protest government repression. According to prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, more people may have gathered in 2015 than  in 2012, with some activists trying new forms of peaceful civil disobedience, such as placing teddy bears at the sites of previous protests in order to raise awareness for the movement and satirize the government response.

The authorities, however, applied the same heavy-handed tactics as they had in earlier years, firing tear gas and shotgun pellets into crowds and communities known to hold protests. Security forces unlawfully raided homes without presenting search warrants and effected scores of arbitrary arrests. In early 2015, the Bahraini government also revoked the citizenship of 72 individuals, including journalists and activists in the pro-democracy movement.

This Sunday is the sixth anniversary of the modern pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Unfortunately, as documented in the report Shattering the Façade, the Government of Bahrain has failed to implement many of the political reforms or human rights protections recommended by the BICI half a decade ago. Instead, the authorities have demonstrated a consistent willingness to use intimidation and force in order to quell peaceful protests and silence dissent.

Yet Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement perseveres – and just maybe this 14 February will be different.

Mapping Bahrain’s Human Rights Violations

On February 14, 2011, thousands of Bahrainis participated in a “Day of Rage” in Manama, inspired by the popular upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia. They hoped that peaceful protests could change the political landscape of the country. By the end of the night, 21-year old Ali Mushaima was dead. This marked the beginning of a several year period of government suppression of dissent. Three days after the killing of Ali Mushaima, on February 17, protesters marched to the Pearl Roundabout in Manama. The police were waiting for them, and opened fire. A day later, activists began their march from the cemetery where Ali Mushaima is buried. Again, the police met them with live ammunition, killing four people in what would come to be known as “Bloody Thursday.” That was the highest number killed in one day, until a month later, when security forces killed six people on March 16.

Since the “Day of Rage” and Ali Mushaima’s death, human rights organizations have documented the deaths of 85 people at the hands of security forces between 2011 and 2014. 65 of these deaths occurred in predominantly Shia areas of Bahrain. 70 people were killed in the first two years, in 2011 and 2012. Security forces killed men, women, children, and the elderly. The youngest victim was Yahya Yousif Ahmed; he was 45 days-old when he died on March 5, 2012. The oldest victim was Habib Ebrahim, 88 years-old, who he was killed on January 12, 2013.

Utilizing data and testimony, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) have assembled an interactive chart that illustrates the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain, displaying in visual form the spread of extra-judicial killings of protesters, the arrests of activists, bloggers, journalists, and photographers, and extrajudicial killing of government opponents. The map describes a country in crisis, where torture, abuse, and killing prevail as a norm in the government’s campaign against human rights and democracy.

Acess the chart here.

 

Photographer Ahmed al-Fardan Sentenced to Prison for Illegal Assembly

On 3 February 2016, a Bahraini court upheld photographer Ahmed al-Fardan’s three-month prison sentence on charges of “attempting” to protest. We condemn the Bahraini authorities' continued targeting and prosecution of photographers and journalists, which directly violates internationally guaranteed freedoms of expression and media.

On 26 December 2013 at 3:00 A.M., security forces raided al-Fardan's house, confiscated his camera and other electronic devices, and arrested him. The security forces did not present an arrest or search warrant, did not inform him of the charges against him, and did not tell him where they would take him. They later charged him with “illegal assembly” and detained him for 14 days before he was finally released on bail. In May 2014, the authorities transferred his case to the court, and in 2015 the court sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment. He denied all charges, and stated that his presence in the protests was strictly related to his professional activity as a journalist and photographer. On 3 February 2016, the Court of Appeals upheld his sentence, and security forces arrested him in the courtroom.

During his previous arrest, security forces subjected al-Fardan to torture at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). They repeatedly beat him on his face and genitals, kept him in a very cold room, and limited his access to sanitary facilities. Al-Fardan suffered difficulty breathing, passed out, and was taken to the hospital. Due to the severity of his torture, al-Fardan suffered two broken ribs.

Al-Fardan works for the Italian-based NurPhoto Agency as a contributing photographer, and is a former member of the Photographic Society of America (PSA). Al-Fardan's photos of the unrest in Bahrain have appeared in international news outlets and have been recognized by human rights groups. On 23 November 2013, one of his photos won second place in IFEX's international contest to expose impunity, as part of the International Day to End Impunity. Before that, he had received the first place award in Freedom House Photography’s annual photo contest in 2013.

Al-Fardan is not the only photographer who has regularly been harassed and arbitrarily charged with criminal offences by Bahraini authorities. Jaffar Marhoon, Qassim Zen-al-deen, Abdullah Salman Al-Jirdabi, and Hussein Hubail are other photographers victimized by the Bahraini government's repressive campaign against freedom of expression. The Bahraini authorities’ arrest and detention of journalists and photographers is in direct violation of several international human rights instruments, namely the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit arbitrary arrest and torture and guarantee the rights to free expression and assembly for all.

Based on the above, we call on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately release Ahmed al-Fardan and other photographers unjustly imprisoned in Bahrain , and drop all charges against them; and
  • Immediately end all forms of restrictions that threaten freedom of expression, media  and opinion in Bahrain.

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)

European Parliament adopts an Urgency Resolution on Mohamed Ramadan

 

Today, 4 February 2016, the European Parliament (EP) adopted by a majority an Urgency Resolution on the case of Mohamed Ramadan, a Bahraini sentenced to death despite being tortured and confessing under duress.

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB), The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Reprieve, and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) welcome the adoption of this urgency resolution, as it puts the spotlight on the sharp increase in the use of the death penalty by Bahraini authorities, and on the continuous issues of torture, ill-treatment, and partiality of the judicial system.

Mohamed Ramadan, an airport security guard, peacefully participated in protests in Bahrain calling for democratic reforms. He was arrested on 18 February 2014 without a warrant, and accused alongside eleven other defendants of being involved in a fatal bomb explosion that killed a police officer in al-Dair village, on 14 February 2014. Government agents subjected Mohamed Ramadan to enforced disappearance, during which time authorities severely tortured him until he falsely confessed to his involvement in the bombing. Despite both retracting his confession and reporting to the public prosecutor that he confessed under torture, Mohamed Ramadan was sentenced to death. In imposing capital punishment, the court relied on his forced confession as the main evidence in his trial, thereby failing to meet international standards of due process. Mohamed Ramadan has exhausted all legal avenues of appeal, and he stands at risk of imminent execution.

The Urgency Resolution highlights that Mohamed Ramadan is only one of seven individuals sentenced to death in Bahrain in the last year; a total of ten defendants currently stand on death row. The European Parliament expresses grave concern with Bahrain’s regression towards the practice of capital punishment, and it calls on the Government of Bahrain to commute the death sentences of Mohamed Ramadan and all other persons sentenced to death in Bahrain.

Furthermore, a strong stance is made against the torture Mr Ramadan faced while in detention, where the European Parliament “Condemns firmly the continuing use of torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment against prisoners by the security forces; is extremely worried about the prisoners’ physical and mental integrity” and “Calls on the competent authorities to undertake a prompt and impartial investigation into all allegations of torture, to prosecute suspected perpetrators of torture and to dismiss all convictions made on the basis of confessions obtained under conditions of torture”. The Urgency Resolution highlights the lack of due process and impartiality present during Mr Ramadan’s trial and subsequent conviction, saying that there is a need for Bahrain to “ensur(e) compliance with international human rights standards” in its judicial proceedings.

We welcome the Urgency Resolution adopted by the European Parliament, and we call on the European Union to continue to address human rights abuses in Bahrain and the rest of the Gulf Region. We exhort the international community to speak out against any form of human rights abuses, and further urge the Bahraini government to implement its commitments under international human rights law.

Read this statement in French.

Authorities continue to target children

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concern at the continuing policy of detaining children under the age of 18 as part of its ongoing campaign against the pro-democracy movement that began over five years ago. BCHR continues to document the arrest, detention and physical assaults against children by the security services – it has now documented 237 cases of the detention of children in 2015 alone.

The Bahraini security forces recently arrested six children from the Sar region: Sayyid Ali Abbas Mohammed (16); the two brothers Jassem Mohammed Hassan (16) and Hassan Mohammed Hassan (15); Fadhel Mohammed Hassan (15); Sayyid Fadhel Saeed Shams (14) and Sayyid Mohammed Hashem (13). The prosecutor general ordered them to be detained while they were investigated for political crimes. BCHR has received details of their arrest and information about allegations of torture and mistreatment after their arrest. We consider their experiences an example of the violation of the human rights of children in Bahrain.

Sayyid Ali Abbas Mohammed

Sayyid Ali Abbas Mohammed, 16 years old, is a student in the second year of secondary school and plays table tennis for the Bahraini team. On 27 November 2015 he was arrested by city security forces along with a group of people he was travelling in a car with at around 09:00 in Barbar. The local security agents then moved the group to the police station at Badia because they were not carrying their ID cards and because Sayyid Ali did not have a driving licence. Hours after they were taken to Badia police station, the whole group was released, apart from Sayyid Ali, who had a traffic infraction filed against him for driving without a licence. This is what police told his family when they went to the police station to find out where he was. They were later told that he would be taken to the prosecutor general.

After three days Sayyid Ali was taken before the prosecutor general on 30 November 2015 and charged with three offences: making fake bombs and placing them in the street, possessing Molotov cocktails and paints, illegal assembly and rioting. The prosecutor general decided to detain Sayyid Ali for a further 30 days while investigations were carried out. Sayyid Ali later told his family that he was beaten before being taken before the prosecutor general. The beating took place at Badia police station, and was carried out by police officers who kicked him in the stomach, hung him from the neck, threw him on the ground and beat him on the head and feet repeatedly. He was forced to admit to the crimes he was accused of by the general prosecutor, which he had not committed, and threatened with further beating if he later denied them. This is why he admitted the crimes before the prosecutor general. He also informed his family that he was beaten in the interior of the police station, where there are no surveillance cameras.

Fadil, Hassan and Jasim Mohammed Hassan (brothers)

On 21 December 2015, plain-clothes security forces accompanied by uniformed personnel raided the house of two children, Jassim Mohammed Hassan (14) and Hassan Mohammed Hassan (15) at 3am. The house, in the Sar region, had its outer door kicked in and the security forces entered the interior without an arrest warrant or permission to carry out a search. They searched the entire house and arrested Jasim and Hassan. They left the house without giving any information as to the reason for the arrest or where the boys were being taken. At 8am the family were informed by telephone that the boys were at Badia police station. The boys told their family that they had been beaten, at which point the phone call was cut off. On 23 December 2015 they were brought before the prosecutor general, who charged them with making fake explosives – it was decided that they should be detained for 30 days pending investigation.

On 28 December 2015 the family made their first visit to the boys at the Houdh al-Jaf holding centre. The boys informed their family that they were suffering ill treatment and had been beaten. They said they had been blindfolded throughout their two-day stay at the criminal investigations headquarters. They were also threatened with being returned to the investigations headquarters and beaten again if they denied the allegations leveled against them by the prosecutor general. Jassim told his family that, due to the severity of the beating, he had been forced to “confess” that their younger brother Fadil (13) had been with them during the crime they were accused of. Fadil was subsequently arrested on 14 January 2016 after he was summoned to appear before the prosecutor general for investigation. He was accused of planting a foreign body in the street, burning tyres and unlawful assembly. He was detained for seven days while investigations were carried out, and his detention was extended for a further four days on 21 January 2016.

Sayyid Fadil Saeed Shams

On 19 January 2016 Sayyid Fadil Saeed Shams (14) received a notice demanding that he appear before the prosecutor general. On 20 January, Sayyid went with his father to the prosecutor general, where he was questioned without the presence of his lawyer. The prosecutor general did not allow Sayyid’s father to enter the interrogation room with him. The prosecutor general accused Sayyid of planting a foreign object in the street, and ruled to detain him for six days despite the fact that he denied the charges, according to his family. It should be mentioned that Sayyid is the brother of a child unlawfully killed by the security forces, Sayyid Ahmed Shams, who died after he was hit by a direct shot in 2012.

Sayyid Mohammed Hashim Sharf

On 20 January 2016 Sayyid Mohammed Hashim Sharf (13), a student in the second year of preparatory school and a member of the Bahraini table tennis squad for his age category, received a notice demanding that he appear before the prosecutor general. On 21 January Sayyid Mohammed went with his father to the prosecutor general, where he was questioned without the presence of his lawyer. The prosecutor general did not allow Sayyid’s father to enter the interrogation room with him. The prosecutor general accused Sayyid Mohammed of planting a foreign object in the street, and ruled to detain him for five days despite the fact that he denied the charges,

Based on the above, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights calls on the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom and all other close allies of the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately release all children arrested during the rest wave of protests in Bahrain
  • Drop all charges leveled against these children      
  • Implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bahrain is a signatory
  • Properly investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of children
  • Hold to account those who are responsible for torturing children and bring them before a judge                  

Bahrain’s Miscarriage of Justice in Sentencing 57 Jau Prisoners

 

On Monday, 25 January 2016, Bahrain’s public prosecutor announced that a court had sentenced 57 men to additional 15-year jail terms for their alleged involvement in the Jau Prison riots last March. The prosecutor accused the men of having “unleashed acts of chaos, riots and rebellion inside (prison) buildings,” and officially charged them with a variety of offenses, including “damaging public property, attacking police, arson and resisting authorities.” According to prisoners since released from Jau, the riots were in response to the prison’s substantial overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. Mounting evidence suggests that Bahraini authorities responded to the riots by engaging in collective punishment, subjecting the prisoners to severe, en masse human rights abuses before, during, and after the riots. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the European Center for Rights and Democracy (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) condemn the sentencing of the 57 persons as a miscarriage of justice, and call on the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable any person responsible for acts of collective punishment and human rights violations.

As documented by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD in Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison, “physical torture, prevention of medical care, and massive overcrowding remain a systemic failure of Bahrain’s prison system.” In response to the riot in March 2015 specifically, prison officials and security personnel employed excessive force to suppress the unrest, beating inmates indiscriminately and firing tear gas into confined spaces. Though reports suggest that only a minority of prisoners took part in any unruly behavior, the authorities punished them all collectively – and long after the government had re-established control of the facility. Now, the government has sentenced 57 people to lengthy prison terms amidst allegations of abuse, torture, and due process violations, not only calling into question the veracity of the convictions but also whether any security officials will be held accountable for the abuse.

“What happened at Jau was a tragedy on all sides,” said Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of ADHRB. “While we never support violence in any case, we are very concerned that today’s convictions resulted from the collective use of torture and abuse and seems to be a means of intimidation to prevent any future protests in the prisons.”

The Bahraini government’s response to Jau has been a cause of significant concern in the international community, particularly at the United Nations. In June, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated it was “concerned about the harsh treatment of detainees in Jau Prison…” following the riot, and called on the Government to “conduct impartial, speedy, and effective investigations and to ensure that any victims of torture or ill-treatment have access to appropriate remedies.” In September, the Special Procedures of the United Nations communicated concerns regarding “Bahraini security forces using rubber bullets, tear gas, and shotgun pellets, which led to the injuries of at least 500 prisoners.”

“Although the UN called for speedy investigations into the Bahraini government’s assault on Jau’s prison population, thus far the government has yet to hold any security personnel accountable,” said Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdhah, Vice President of BCHR. “The government must conduct an investigation into what happened at Jau, and punish those responsible for human rights violations.”

Five years after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) called on the government to prevent torture and hold perpetrators accountable, the court’s decision to sentence 57 Jau inmates to additional, lengthy prison terms demonstrates the authorities’ continued unwillingness to reform. Mohammed al-Tajer, an attorney for the accused and the brother of Ali al-Tajer, who is currently arbitrarily detained in Bahrain,argued that the government ultimately disregarded the evidence of human rights violations at Jau: “We raised a complaint that our clients were beaten during the unrest in Jau prison, but the court sentenced them at the end of the day, ignoring these complaints.”

“It’s been four years now since the BICI called for the Bahraini government to hold torturers accountable,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at BIRD. “Instead of jailing the torturers, however, the government continues to only punish the tortured.”

Read the French version here.