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Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Bahrain

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 May 2012
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Bahrain, 24 May 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fbe395050.html [accessed 21 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Head of state: King Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa
Head of government: Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 1.3 million
Life expectancy: 75.1 years
Under-5 mortality: 12.1 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 91.4 per cent

Bahrain experienced an acute human rights crisis in which at least 47 people were killed, including five members of the security forces and five people who died in custody as a result of torture. Security forces used excessive force against peaceful protesters and detained hundreds of people, including prisoners of conscience. Many detainees were tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Hundreds of civilian detainees received unfair trials before military courts; leading opposition activists were sentenced to up to life imprisonment. People who demonstrated against the government, including students, were dismissed from their jobs and from university. An independent inquiry by international experts appointed by the King confirmed the serious human rights violations and called for independent investigations, accountability and other reforms. Five people were sentenced to death; two had their sentences reduced at appeal. There were no executions.

Background

Mass pro-reform protests began on 14 February. Most demonstrators were from the majority Shi'a community, who believe they are discriminated against by the ruling Sunni minority. The protests centred on Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, where a protest camp was established. Police and other security forces dispersed the protesters on 17 February using excessive force. Two days later, protesters re-established the camp and became more vociferous in their calls for change. On 23 February, the King pardoned 23 leading opposition activists, detained since August 2010, and more than 200 other prisoners and detainees.

On 13 March, a small group of anti-government protesters were reported to have attacked Asian migrant workers in Manama, causing two deaths and injuries to others. On 15 March, as demonstrations and strikes continued, the King declared a three-month state of emergency. This came a day after around 1,200 Saudi Arabian troops in armoured vehicles had arrived in the country to buttress Bahrain's security forces. By the end of March, the main protests had been crushed, although sporadic protests in predominantly Shi'a villages continued for the rest of the year. The King lifted the state of emergency on 1 June.

In late June, the King appointed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), comprising five international legal and human rights experts, to investigate alleged human rights violations committed in connection with the protests. It reported to the King on 23 November. The government also initiated a "national dialogue" with the parliamentary opposition, businesses, NGO representatives and others; however, the largest Shi'a political opposition association, al-Wefaq, whose 18 members of parliament had resigned in February in protest at police brutality, withdrew after two weeks complaining that unacceptable conditions had been imposed.

Excessive use of force

The resort to unwarranted violence by security forces in response to the peaceful protest on 14 and 15 February resulted in the deaths of two people. On 17 February, riot police and other security forces destroyed the protest camp established at Pearl Roundabout. They used tear gas, beat people with batons and fired shotguns and rubber bullets at protesters at close range; five people were killed and many others were injured. The security forces also impeded and assaulted medical workers who sought to assist the wounded.

On 16 March, the security forces launched a concerted crackdown. Backed by helicopters and tanks, they stormed the Pearl Roundabout and Financial Harbour areas. They evicted the protesters using shotguns, rubber bullets and tear gas, causing deaths and injuries to protesters. They also took control of Manama's main Salmaniya Medical Complex, detaining doctors and other medical workers they accused of supporting the protesters. In response to the continuing protests in predominantly Shi'a villages, the security forces sometimes responded with excessive force. By the end of the year, at least 47 people had died in all the protests, including five police officers.

  • 'Ali 'Abdulhadi Mushaima' died after being shot several times at a demonstration on 14 February in al-Daih village, west of Manama. Some 10,000 people who attended his funeral procession the next day were attacked without warning by riot police using tear gas and shotguns; Fadhel 'Ali Matrook was shot dead.

  • 'Isa 'Abdulhassan, aged 60, died on 17 February when he was shot in the head at close range as the security forces stormed the protest camp at Pearl Roundabout.

  • Ahmed al-Jaber al-Qatan, aged 16, died in hospital on 6 October after being hit by shotgun pellets during a protest in the village of Abu-Saeiba'. Riot police used shotguns and sound bombs to disperse the protesters. The government said that it was investigating his death, but the outcome had not been made public by the end of 2011.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

More than 1,000 people were arrested in connection with the protests; some were Sunni Muslims but the vast majority were Shi'a Muslims. Most were arrested in March and April, many in pre-dawn raids at their homes, often by armed, masked security officers who did not produce arrest warrants and often assaulted those they arrested and, sometimes, their relatives. Detainees were usually taken to undisclosed locations and held incommunicado for up to several weeks, during which they were interrogated and, in many cases, allegedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Their whereabouts frequently remained unknown until they were brought to trial.

  • Ebrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad), a secular political opposition association, was taken from his home in Manama on 17 March by armed masked security men who refused to produce an arrest warrant when asked to do so. They took him to an undisclosed location and his family and lawyer were denied access to him for weeks.

Unfair trials

Hundreds of people were prosecuted for offences allegedly committed in connection with the protests, including political opposition activists, medical professionals, teachers, students and human rights activists. Many faced grossly unfair trials before a special military court – the National Safety Court (NSC) – set up under the state of emergency. Those convicted and sentenced to imprisonment included prisoners of conscience. The BICI reported that an estimated 300 people were convicted on charges relating to their exercise of freedom of expression. Others were convicted even though they repudiated "confessions" they said had been extracted under torture; the court did not investigate these allegations. In some cases, the NSC refused defence requests to call witnesses; in many, defence lawyers were denied access to their clients until the trial began and so had inadequate time to prepare their defence. Initially, appeals against NSC judgements were heard by a similarly deficient NSC appeal court.

Following wide criticism of the NSC, on 29 June the King decreed that all ongoing cases being examined by the NSC and linked to the February-March protests would be transferred to civilian courts, but on 18 August he decreed that the NSC would continue to try the most serious – felony – cases. However, all NSC judgements were made subject to appeal before a civilian court, including those already upheld by the NSC appeal court. In September, a military court sentenced 20 health professionals to up to 15 years in prison on charges that included occupying a government hospital, possession of weapons and stealing medicine. The cases were sent for appeal before a civilian court before the end of the year.

By early October, all cases had been transferred to civilian courts and the NSC was no longer functioning.

  • Abdel Jalil al-Singace, Hassan Mshaima and 19 other leading opposition activists, including seven tried in their absence, were convicted on charges that included "setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution" after an unfair trial before the NSC that concluded on 22 June. Eight, including Abdel Jalil al-Singace and Hassan Mshaima, were sentenced to life imprisonment, the others to lesser prison terms. Most had been detained in pre-dawn raids, held incommunicado for long periods during which they alleged they were tortured and forced to sign "confessions", and allowed only minimal access to lawyers before they were brought to trial. They were convicted despite the reported failure of the prosecution to provide strong evidence against them. Most of them appeared to have been prosecuted for calling for the end of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic. There was no evidence that they used or called for violence; they therefore appeared to be prisoners of conscience. The NSC appeal court confirmed the sentences imposed on all 21 defendants on 28 September; they remained in prison awaiting the Court of Cassation's ruling on their appeal.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Many of the people detained in March and April were taken to police stations and to the Criminal Investigations Department in Manama, where they were held incommunicado and interrogated by members of the National Security Agency and other security forces. Many alleged that they were beaten, made to stand for long periods, given electric shocks, deprived of sleep and threatened with rape. Many said they were held incommunicado for weeks after their interrogation ended.

The authorities failed to conduct independent investigations into most of these allegations. The NSC also failed to adequately investigate defendants' allegations of torture in pre-trial detention and accepted contested "confessions" as evidence of guilt. However, in November, shortly before the BICI presented its report and in anticipation of its findings, the government said it would amend the Penal Code to criminalize torture and that 20 members of the security forces were on trial in connection with allegations of torture of detainees, deaths in custody as a result of mistreatment, and unlawful killings of civilians. Full details of these prosecutions had not been disclosed by the end of the year.

  • Aayat Alqormozi, a student who had read out poems during the February protests, was arrested when she presented herself to the authorities on 30 March after masked members of the security forces twice raided her parents' house and threatened to kill her brothers if she did not surrender. She was held incommunicado for the first 15 days, during which she said that she was punched and kicked, given electric shocks to the face, forced to stand for hours, verbally abused and threatened with rape. On 12 June, the NSC sentenced her to one year in prison after convicting her of participating in illegal protests, disrupting public security and inciting hatred towards the regime. She was conditionally released on 13 July after she pledged not to participate in protests or criticize the government. Her case was referred to the High Criminal Court of Appeal, which ruled on 21 November that the case was suspended but without clarifying her legal status. She was at liberty at the end of the year, but was prevented from resuming her studies at Bahrain University.

Deaths in custody

Five people detained in connection with the protests died in custody as a result of torture. Those responsible for their torture were said to be among the 20 security officers facing prosecution at the end of the year.

  • Hassan Jassem Mohammad Mekki was arrested at his home in the early hours of 28 March. Six days later, his relatives were called to a morgue to identify his body, which they said bore marks and bruises on the head, neck and legs that appeared to have been caused by beatings. The cause of death was officially attributed to heart failure, but no autopsy was known to have been conducted. The BICI concluded that his death was caused by mistreatment in custody.

  • 'Ali 'Issa Ibrahim al-Saqer died in custody on 9 April, a few days after police called him in for questioning about the killing of a police officer during the March protests. The Interior Ministry said he died while being restrained by police. No autopsy was known to have been conducted. His body was said to have borne marks suggesting that he had been tortured. The BICI concluded that his death was due to mistreatment in custody.

Dismissals of protesters

More than 2,000 workers from the public sector and more than 2,400 from the private sector were dismissed from their jobs for participating in or supporting the protests. They included university lecturers, school teachers, medical doctors and nurses. Almost all were Shi'a Muslims. In late November, the BICI reported that 1,682 dismissed public sector employees had been reinstated.

Death penalty

The NSC sentenced five people to death after convicting them of killings committed during the protests. The NSC appeal court confirmed two of the sentences and commuted two others; the fifth case was awaiting appeal. The five were the first Bahraini nationals to be sentenced to death for more than 10 years. One foreign national sentenced to death in 2010 was still awaiting execution. There were no executions.

  • 'Ali 'Abdullah Hassan al-Sankis and 'Abdulaziz 'Abdulridha Ibrahim Hussain were sentenced to death on 28 April after the NSC convicted them of killing two police officers during the protests in March. The NSC appeal court upheld their sentences on 22 May. The Court of Cassation was due to rule on their cases in January 2012. Their lawyer sought a retrial on the grounds that the trial court had failed to investigate their allegations of torture and their sentences had been confirmed by an unfair military appeal court.

Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry

In its substantial report published on 23 November, the BICI said it had examined more than 8,000 complaints; interviewed more than 5,000 individuals, including male and female detainees; and visited various prisons, detention centres and the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama. It confirmed that many detainees had been tortured by security officials who believed they could act with impunity; that police and other security forces had repeatedly used excessive force against protesters, resulting in unlawful killings; and that legal proceedings before the NSC had been seriously defective. Among its recommendations, the BICI called for all allegations of torture to be independently investigated, for those responsible for abuses to be held criminally liable whatever their rank, and for the release of all those imprisoned on account of their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. The King and government undertook to implement the BICI's recommendations.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

At least 200 men were arrested on 2 February when police raided a party in al-Muharraq believed to involve gay men after neighbours complained about noise. Most were released without charge but 50 were prosecuted, 30 on charges of prostitution and other illicit acts. They were sentenced in March to prison terms of up to six months. The High Criminal Court of Appeal confirmed the sentences in December; by then all had already been released.

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