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Bahrain's judiciary hands down harsh sentences ignoring claims of torture and ill-treatment

Protesters hold up pictures of journalists, doctors, and activists as they take part in a solidarity march asking for their release in Manama on 9 May 2014
Protesters hold up pictures of journalists, doctors, and activists as they take part in a solidarity march asking for their release in Manama on 9 May 2014

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses grave concern in regards to the harsh sentences handed down to activists and civilians in several cases between 20 and 29 April 2014. In addition to the legal violations that occurred during the interrogation sessions and hearings, the court disregarded the defendants' complaints that they were subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

Case 1: Five civilians, including two women, sentenced in the “Formula One Bombing” case on 29 April 2014

The High Criminal Court issued a verdict on 29 April 2014, sentencing five civilians, including two women, to five years' imprisonment each in the case known as the "Formula One Bombing".

The defendants were arrested after the Formula One race in Bahrain in April 2013. Rihanna Al-Mousawi and Abbas Al-Asfoor both attempted to speak in court about the torture they were subjected to in order to force them to sign confessions to crimes they stated they did not commit; however, the judge refused to hear their statements and recorded their statements as "subject to financial and moral coercion".

During the trial, Rihanna Al-Mousawi stated in court that she was subjected to torture, including being stripped of all her clothing, with the purpose of coercing her to sign a statement confessing that she and a group of others intended to carry out a bombing at the Bahrain International Circuit for Formula One.

Al-Asfoor and Al-Mousawi are the first women in Bahrain to be prosecuted under the internationally criticized terrorism law after facing charges from the Ministry of Interior. Head of Public Security Tariq Al-Hassan said that, “the police teams in charge of guarding and securing the entrance gates of Bahrain's Formula One racetrack were able to stop two girls at the public entrance gates on suspicious activity on the second day of the race, and when they searched them, one of them appeared to have tied a pillow around her stomach.” Al-Hassan added that after questioning and investigation, it appeared that the operation was designed to test the security of the racetrack as a prelude to carrying out a terrorist act. He confirmed that they were taken to the Public Prosecution and had their statements recorded and were detained. Read more about Tariq Al-Hassan here.

Case 2: Sentencing of nine citizens, among them an international photographer and an actor, in the “Bahrain Tamarud” case on 28 April 2014

The High Criminal Court sentenced nine citizens, including actor Sadiq Al-Shabani, photographer Hussein Hubail, and online activist Jassim Al-Noaimi, to five years in prison each on 28 April 2014 for calling for unlicensed demonstrations and propagating a change of the political regime during what was known as the "Bahrain Rebellion".

Al-Noaimi and Hubail, who were arrested in July and August 2013, respectively, stated in court that Lieutenant Fawaz Al-Sameem subjected them to torture and threats of sexual abuse.

Instead of investigating the claims of torture and threats, the court heard Al-Sameem as the witness for the prosecution. In his testimony, he stated that the Cyber Crime Directorate (CID) investigations revealed that there are electronic accounts and websites with illegal content, and that through a confidential source, he was able to trace the accounts to the defendants.

Although the examiners in the directorate cleared their devices after their arrest, the content that supported the charges was noted. Internationally recognized photographer Hussein Hubail also stated in court that he was subjected to torture during his time at the CID, including beating and kicking in the stomach and face, being kept in an extremely cold room, being forced to stand for long periods of time, and sleep deprivation. Hubail also claimed that he did not receive the appropriate medical care he requires for a pre-existing heart condition.

Al-Shabani was arrested by Omani Intelligence in January 2013 and was subjected to enforced disappearance, according to his family's statement to BCHR. Al-Shabani stated that he was able to identify one of his torturers, Lieutenant Fawaz Al-Sameem, but unable to identify the rest.

Al-Shabani also said that the interrogator asked him if he wanted to be treated, “as a human or an animal?” The interrogation and reported ill-treatment were designed to force Al-Shabani to confess that he had joined the Tamarud, or Rebellion Movement, which leads peaceful anti-government activities. Because Al-Shabani continued to deny any involvement with the movement, they suspended him with chains and told him that they would treat him as an animal. Al-Shabani said that Al-Sameem and the other interrogators stripped him and sexually abused him by inserting a rod in his anus, pulling his penis with a string, and pouring hot and cold water over his genitals.

Al-Shabani added that he was also electrocuted in his anus and repeatedly struck on his face and ears, which caused swell and bleeding. They showed him personal photos of him and his wife, which they had obtained when they raided his house during the National Safety period in 2011, and threatened to sexually assault her. Al-Sameem led Al-Shabani to believe that his wife was in the next room, and made him listen to a girl screaming as if there was someone raping her. Interrogators also reportedly brought Al-Shabani photos of girls from his family and they threatened to rape them all if he did not confess. During the investigation, Al-Shabani was asked to define the nature of his relationship with Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafda, the Vice President of the BCHR, whom they also threatened to arrest and sexually assault. Despite all of this, the judge relied on Lieutenant Al-Sameem's testimony and evidence from confidential sources to deliver sentences of five years each to the nine detainees.

Case 3: Sentencing 12 citizens to life in prison on charges of exchanging intelligence with foreign countries on 20 April 2014

The High Criminal Court convicted 14 Bahraini citizens charged with spying for Iran and training with Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah movement in Iraq, and sentenced 12 citizens to life in prison and others to 15 years in prison, in addition to a fine of 1000 BD (US$2652) and the confiscation of previously seized property[10].

Among the detainees accused is Abdul-Jabbar Ahmed who was arrested by security forces dressed as civilians who raided his workplace on Sunday, 11 August 2013 and then was subjected to enforced disappearance for more than six days. Abdul-Jabbar's family stated that he claimed that he was subjected to beating and torture as well as being handcuffed for two days in a cold room, which caused him severe hand and shoulder pain.

The court charged cleric Zuhair Ashoor with supplying intelligence to individuals who work in the interest of a foreign country in order to commit hostile acts against Bahrain with the aim of harming its national interests. The prosecution claimed he contacted and made an agreement with members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard to provide them with information about the internal affairs of Bahrain as well as carrying out military training to commit violent acts and vandalism inside Bahrain. Additionally, they claimed he supplied weapons and ammunition and requested and accepted gifts for himself and others from those who work against the national security and interests of Bahrain.

Ashoor was arrested by members of the security forces in civilian clothing at a checkpoint near a shopping centre on 18 July 2013. Ashoor was subjected to death threats, subjected to enforced disappearance, and had his name slanderously attached to several security cases.[12] A photo of Ashoor was broadcasted by The National TV that, according to the family's statements, indicated his face had been greatly altered as a result of torture. Despite this, and the lawyers' confirmation that there was not any evidence against the accused, the judge determined that the detainees' statements reportedly extracted under torture were sufficient to sentence 12 citizens to life in prison as a primary verdict.

This is not the first time that the Bahrain Center for Human Rights receives statements from victims that the High Criminal Court ignores their claims of torture given in court. BCHR believes that the judiciary system in Bahrain must not be a tool of oppression, and must be reformed to meet international standards for a fair trial and due process.

Based on the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United States, United Kingdom, United Nations and all close allies to the authorities in Bahrain to pressure the government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately release those sentenced in the above cases and all other prisoners who are held on politically motivated charges due to the ongoing popular protests for freedom and democracy;
  • End the practice of torture and psychological intimidation as a means to extract confessions from detainees;
  • Investigate all complaints of torture and end the systematic policy of impunity for human rights violators.

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