Dublin/Bahrain: BICI report confirms systematic use of torture

Front Line Defenders welcomes the launch of the report of the Government appointed Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) BICI Report which confirms the systematic torture of human rights defenders including medical professionals in Bahrain and calls for those responsible to be held accountable.

Further Information

The report also concludes that a large number of individuals were prosecuted and imprisoned to punish those in the opposition and to exclude from the public debate those calling for peaceful change in the structure or system of government.

It states that the processes under the authority of the Military Attorney General “denied most defendants elementary fair trial guarantees.”

“The BICI Report details the horrific torture inflicted upon our friend and former colleague Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as well as the detained medical professionals and many others,” said Front Line Defenders Director Mary Lawlor, “the Bahraini Government must release the victims and bring those responsible to justice.”

The BICI report states:

On the basis of the Commission‘s investigation and particularly the forensic medical reports, it finds that the NSA (National Security Agency) and MoI (Ministry of Interior) followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody.

The most common techniques used on detainees included the following: blindfolding; handcuffing; enforced standing for prolonged periods; beating; punching; hitting the detainee with rubber hoses (including on the soles of the detainee‘s feet), cables, whips, metal, wooden planks or other objects; electrocution; sleep-deprivation; exposure to extreme temperatures; verbal abuse; threats of rape to the detainee or family members; and insulting the detainee‘s religious sect (Shia).

Former Front Line Defenders Protection Coordinator and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was arrested in the early hours of 9th April. His case was considered by the BICI forensic team and the annexe of the report contains details of his statement including:

The detainee was thrown on the ground, rolled down stairs, kicked and beaten with sticks. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was blindfolded. His son-in-law was also arrested. Immediately after the arrest, the detainee received a hard blow to the side of his face, which broke his jaw and knocked him to the ground.

He was taken to the MoI clinic and then the BDF (Bahrain Defence Forces) Hospital where he had major jaw surgery for four broken bones in his face. The detainee spent approximately seven days in BDF hospital. He was blindfolded the whole time and handcuffed to the bed with tight cuffs. When he asked the hospital staff to loosen the cuffs, they refused.

Security personnel in the hospital threatened him with sexual abuse and execution. They also made sexual threats against his wife and daughter.

The doctor told the detainee that he needed three weeks of care but he was taken to Al Qurain Prison after only six or seven days. At Al Qurain Prison, the detainee spent two months in solitary confinement in a small cell measuring approximately 2.5m x 2m. He did not know where he was or what day it was. There was no fresh air. He was hooded whenever he went to the toilet. Eight days after his surgery, regular beatings started at night. Masked guards cursed him and hit him in his head and hands, causing swelling. They forced a stick into his anus. He was also beaten on the soles of his feet (falaka) and on his toes.”

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who has worked tirelessly for the promotion and protection of human rights across the Middle East and North Africa region was found guilty on 22 June 2011 together with 20 co-defendants, of, among other things, planning to overthrow the Government of Bahrain by force, and forming part of a terrorist organisation.

The case is currently being considered by the National Safety Court of Appeal but given the BICI report's confirmation of torture and denial of fair trial guarantees he should be released and his conviction should be quashed.

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER ALI ABDULEMAM

Front Line Defenders is also calling for the conviction of renowned blogger and human rights defender Ali Abdulemam, who was tried in absentia as part of the same case, to be quashed.

The BICI report does not examine the arrest and torture of Ali Abdulemam who was released in February 2011 after six months in detention on earlier terrorism related charges because it was outside the time frame of their terms of reference. Ali Abdulemam has not been seen since March 2011 and his whereabouts remain unknown. There are great fears for his safety and Front Line Defenders is calling on the Bahraini Government to quash his conviction and publish any information it holds with regards to his whereabouts.

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS – MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

On 29 September, 20 Bahraini medical professionals were sentenced after an unfair trial by the National Safety Court to sentences ranging from five to fifteen years on a range of spurious charges ranging from inciting hatred of the regime to possessing weapons. The medics deny all charges against them and the next hearing of their appeal is scheduled for 28th November.

The BICI report confirms that the medics were subjected to torture and were denied a fair trial. The BICI report notes that in the context of their appeal the Attorney General withdrew a number of charges and “withdrew the defendant's confessions, which were claimed to have been obtained under duress or by torture.”

The BICI report notes that it has evidence that “the tent erected at the GCC Roundabout was officially authorised and supplied by the Ministry of Health,” and that “there is no evidence to support the allegation that medical personnel misappropriated medical supplies.”

The BICI report also “finds the allegations that medical personnel assisted the demonstrators in the form of supplying them with weapons to be unfounded.”

The BICI report also states that it “could establish that medical staff members were attacked on their way to and from the GCC roundabout.”

The BICI report refrains from coming to conclusions about matters that remain before the courts and does raise some concerns about protests in the hospital grounds and access of patients to medical care. However, it also concludes that “The Commission was not provided with undisputed evidence that any of the medical personnel inside the hospital refused treatment to any injured or sick person on the basis of their sect but some cases of discrimination against patients were documented.”

The BICI report confirms the deaths of a number of protesters as a result of the excessive use of force including from the use of shotguns and other weapons at close range as well as the deaths in custody of at least four detainees as a result of torture.

Front Line Defenders believes that it is because medical professionals provided information about these cases that they were detained, tortured and prosecuted.

Front Line Defenders is calling for the sentences against all the medical personnel to be quashed. It is clear that the original trial was based on confessions obtained by torture and under duress and that the medical personnel were denied the basic elements of a fair trial. Should the Bahraini authorities wish to pursue any legitimate charges against members of the medical profession then these should be the subject of a new process before a civilian court.

The Bahrain Government has consistently denied allegations of torture, politically motivated prosecutions, unfair trials, excessive use of force and deaths in custody as a result of torture. The BICI report, commissioned by King Hamad, has provided chilling confirmation of the extent of all of these human rights violations. There is an urgent need to immediately suspend from duty all those who are implicated and to investigate and bring those responsible to justice. '

Front Line Defenders is calling for the release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the quashing of the convictions against him, Ali Abdulemam, the medical professionals and all human rights defenders in Bahrain.

Editors note

Front Line DefenderS' Head of Campaigns Adam Shapiro is on the ground in Bahrain and attended both the formal presentation of the report to the King and the subsequent press conference chaired by Professor Bassiouni. He is available for interview by telephone from Bahrain.

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TO FREE ABDULHADI A-KHAWAJA

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

Jim Loughran, Head of Communications, Front Line Defenders: Tel +353 1 212 37 50 Mob +353 (0)87 9377586