“Bahrain: a paradise for torturers, hell for human rights defenders” is how Said Yousif Al Mahadfh the head of monitoring and follow-up at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) described his country.
Despite claims to the contrary, the Al Khalifa regime has shown its inability to reform in any real sense. One year after Cherif Bassiouni head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) conducted his investigation, torture has escalated to new levels of sadism. Young women and children have been raped and blackmailed into working for the security services. No political reform has been undertaken while the number of political detainees has reached new levels.
Bahrain joined the Arab Spring on 14th February 2011 with mass demonstrations at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama. The protests were violently suppressed with the assistance of Saudi forces who entered the country a month after they began.
King Hamad set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) on 29th June 2011 to “investigate and report on the events that took place in Bahrain from February 2011, and the consequences of those events.”
The BCHR welcomed the commission’s recommendations and urged the authorities to implement them according to universal standards. At the launch of the commission’s report King Hamad said he accepted all the recommendations without reservation but he has broken his word.
The commission recommended that all sentences on persons charged with offences involving political expression, not advocating violence, should be commuted (para 1291). The Commission also recommended that all victims of torture or mistreatment should receive compensation (para 1248).
But the BCHR’s president Mr Nabeel Rajab, the Co-founder of BCHR Mr Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja and independent human rights defender Zaynab Al-Khawaja are now in jail after being the victims of numerous targeted campaigns and human rights violations. Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2011 by a military court; in his testimony to the BICI and the appeals court, Al Khawaja listed brutal ways of torture he endured at the military hospital after he was beaten in front of his family members and at the military prison after. The torture consisted of physical and sexual torture.
Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar was arrested, tortured and tried in 2010 then released to calm the situation when protests flared in February 2011. He has been in hiding since his release in February 2011 and a military court sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment in absentia along with the popular blogger Ali Abdul Emam who was also sentenced to 15 years in absentia.
The BICI revealed that five political detainees died as a result of torture but the government has so far failed to put on trial any of those responsible for the killings.
One of the highest ranking torturers was Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, son of King Hamad and head of Bahrain’s delegation at the recent Olympic Games. Lord Avebury the the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group sent copies of statements made by two of his victims to the Home Secretary on July 24, suggesting that he should be denied entry to the UK as a person whose presence would not be conducive to the public good. The Immigration Minister Damian Green who replied, said that any person would be refused if there was reliable and credible evidence that they had committed human rights abuses.
“I don’t know what threshold of credibility the Home Office applies, but it reminds me of how we failed to get the police to act in the case of Ian Henderson, the British former head of the security police in the 1990s, when we submitted five witness statements by victims he had tortured, or at whose torture he had been a participant,” Lord Avebury said.
Mohammed Isa Al Tajer, a human rights lawyer and President of the Bahraini Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation spent four months in jail in 2011. “I was told that I am jailed to prevent me from defending the political opposition leaders and activists,” Al Tajer told The Middle East. “I was tortured in a way that colleagues in other prison cells like Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Mahdi Abudeeb could hear my screams, I was kicked and punched over several parts of my body and made to stand for very long hours. I was kept in solitary confinement blind-folded and handcuffed for two months during which I was not allowed to use the toilet for very long periods. I was prevented from sleeping. My body was exposed to different temperatures. My office has been broken into, and I received threats one after another but nobody has been punished. The disturbance went further to the extent of planting surveillance cameras in my bedroom and taking pictures of me and my wife.”
According to Saeed Shehabi,, the London representative of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, torture victims say they were taken to a farm. “So when the king says we don’t torture in prison he may be telling the truth. Those arrested are often severely beaten before being taken to the police station or to prison.”
The Bahraini opposition is calling for a halt to all arms sales to the government until all the recommendations of the BICI report are implemented. The US should also suspend its training of the policy and military. By denying public sector workers the right to organise Bahrain is violating the US free trade agreement.
Human Rights Watch said in their Annual Report on Bahrain for 2011 that over 1,600 people were arrested from mid-March to the end of the year for taking part in anti-government demonstrations or were just suspected of supporting them. Almost certainly the rate of arrests has increased in 2012, but no records are kept or published. Wefaq , the main opposition party, says that there are 90 children in custody, a huge number is such a small country.
Lord Avebury concluded that Britain’s rhetoric about democracy in the Arab world is seen as being selective. “Like the Americans, we are prepared to line up with our autocratic Sunni allies in the Gulf, and particularly to avoid offending Saudi Arabia, whose oil we need. But absolute monarchies are anachronisms that are certain to disappear in the longer term, and the people will remember us as having helped to prop them up. If the transition is not managed peacefully, there could be a period