Seven Years of Reprisal in Bahrain
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Since the eruption of Bahrain’s popular uprising in 2011, thousands of citizens have been arrested without proper cause and often tortured in detention.
By Sondoss Al Asaad
The Bahraini judiciary is utilized by the regime to suppress the peaceful dissents. It arbitrarily releases verdicts of death sentences, citizenship revocations, and deportations, which exposes the magnitude of maliciousness and political unlawful government’s interference. As well, Bahrainis are being criminalized for merely performing their religious rituals and they are deprived of their fundamental constitutional and legal rights, in violation of international law and as part of the intensifying crackdown.
January 2018 has witnessed a wave of reprisal and death sentences campaign unanimously handed down by the Fourth High Criminal Court. Up-to-date, 22 Bahraini citizens remain on death row, which reveals the government’s discriminatory violations and the instrumentalization of the death penalty as a political means of convicting the opposition. Al Khalifa monarchy allied with Saudi Arabia rules Bahrain, the tiny island in the Persian Gulf and the home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
The sectarian racism policy of citizenship revocations and deportations has no legal basis and reflects the regime’s retaliatory oppression and crimes against the popular movement aspiring for democracy, justice and freedom. Since 2011, 553 Bahraini citizens have had their citizenship revoked; most of them are rendered stateless. The authorities aim at eliminating all forms of opposition, dissent and activism by rendering Bahrainis stateless and deporting them. It is worthy to mention that the right to a nationality is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Bahrain is a state party.
Amid the silence of the international community, on 15 January 2017, death penalties were resumed when three tortured victims Sami Mushaima’a, Ali Al-Singace, and Abbas Al-Samaie were executed by firing squad. Besides, the constitution was amended in April 2017 permitting courts to try peaceful dissidents, sentencing them to death after finding them guilty of belonging to alleged “terrorist cell”. Among those sentenced to death are Sayed Alawi Hussein al-Alawi and Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hassan Radhi, who were subjected to extended periods of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. Mainly, these courts rely on the defendants’ coerced confessions and on testimonies of anonymous witnesses, whose statements are not testified before the court.
In recent months, hundreds of Bahrainis have been imprisoned under the guise of counterterrorism as the regime employs its anti-terror legislation to jail and torture its critics. Countless human rights defenders were jailed, banned from traveling and are facing unrelenting harassment by the security forces. The ongoing raids spearheaded by civilian militias and aided by the security services have detained scores of citizens and kept them under police custody including Shiite clerics. The extensive security operation targets predominantly Shiite villages often without proper cause. Many of those arrested are routinely subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
Prisons in Bahrain have gained notoriety, since the 2011 unrest, for its brutal treatment of the prisoners. Prisoners of conscience are subjected to a systematic campaign of harassments, abuses and various sorts of inhumane and severe torture. They are also denied their rights to perform their religious rituals and are punished for complaining against the cruel practices. In September 2017, those prisoners launched a hunger strike in protest of the living conditions and abuses in detention.
Mona Habib, Hamida Alkhor, Amira Al Qashaami and Fatten Hussein were sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly aiding a ‘fugitive’. The four women have endured various abuses and have been denied access to lawyers and relatives before the judge. Further, the opposition political leaders, labeled the 11 prisoners of conscience, have been ill-treated and convicted solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
The health conditions of Hasan Mushaima’a, the secretary-general of the opposition Haq Movement, have sharply worsened. Mushaima’a is serving a life sentence, in Jaw Central Prison, for his role in 2011 popular uprising. The 69-year old is denied his right to access adequate healthcare, including prescribed medication and regular check-ups, unhindered by unnecessary and degrading prison practices. He is a former cancer patient who requires regular Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, further he suffers from heart problems and several health problems. His last PET scan was in September 2016, and prison authorities have routinely deprived him of treatment.
Furthermore, Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. He was convicted of broadcasting ‘fake news’ regarding television commentaries he had made, in July 2017. Although Rajab’s imprisonment has been widely condemned by the international community, he had his two-year prison sentence upheld and is, currently, facing an additional 15 years behind bars, in another case. Rajab has hospitalized on multiple occasions due to his deteriorating health, since his arrest in 2016. Human Rights organizations have repeatedly echoed concerns warning over Rajab’s health and his urgent need to receive medical treatment by a trusted medical institution.
Political detainees are subjected to various restrictions. For instance, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a detained Bahraini rights campaigner is serving a life sentence over his role in Bahrain’s pro-democracy protests during 2011. He is facing deteriorating living conditions and abusive restrictions at Bahrain’s Jaw Prison and his books and other personal belongings have been confiscated.
The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the political activist Maher al-Khabaz’s death sentence. Al-Khabaz was convicted of being involved in the ‘killing of a police officer’ along with nine other defendants. Following Al-Khabaz’s conviction, UN Special Rapporteurs demanded clarification from the government on allegations that he had been subjected to months of grueling torture. He is currently at imminent risk of execution.
In addition, Bahrain’s opposition Al-Wefaq party leader Sheikh Ali Salman, already serving a 4-year prison term, was charged with “spying for the state of Qatar” last November. The charges are fabrications related to his contacts with Qatari officials, who acted as mediators during a 2011 US-GCC initiative, aimed at resolving the political unrest. Indeed, the government utilizes Qatar rift as a pretext to continue its clampdown on the critics.
The Fourth High Criminal Court headed by Judge Ali Khalifa Al Dhahrani sentenced, on 25 December 2017, six citizens to death on an alleged of forming a terrorist cell and plotting to assassinate the Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. The defendants, including Sayed Alawi Hussein al-Alawi and Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hassan Radhi, were subjected to extended periods of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. They were tried under the guise of counterterrorism and forcibly disappeared for around a year. Their parents did not have any information about their whereabouts, place or the reasons of detention. They asserted that they had been forced into giving incriminating confessions under severe torture, sleep deprivation, electric shocks and solitary confinement.
Although Bahrain was repeatedly urged to abolish the death penalty, to accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for the abolition of the death penalty, to open an independent investigation into all complaints of torture and ill-treatment, and to ratify the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary adopted by the United Nations in 1985, however it turns a deaf ear to such calls.
On 31 January 2018, the military court sentenced two people to death and issued lengthy prison sentences against nearly all 60 defendants on terrorism charges; 36 of were tried while in custody and the remaining 24 were tried in absentia. Bahrain News Agency (BNA), the state-run TV, cited a statement saying that 19 people were sentenced to life in prison, two were acquitted and the rest were ordered to serve between 15 and five years in prison. The defendants were ostensibly found guilty of ‘importing explosives, firearms and ammunition’. The statement alleged that ‘fugitives in Iran and Iraq communicated with members of the group to smuggle explosives into Bahrain and that the group's leader is a fugitive in Germany who organized travel to Iranian Revolutionary Guard camps for training’. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran has steadily denied such allegations related to arming the Bahraini opposition.
So far, the Bahraini authorities expelled 8 citizens; 3 brothers Mohammed Ali, Abdul Amir, Abdulnabi Al-Moswai and his wife Maryam Redha; brothers Ismail and Ibrahim Darwish in addition to Adnan Kamal and Habib Darwish. Turning citizens into stateless people and banishing them by forcing them to leave the country is a violation of international law. It is smoothly carried out by the government amid the silence of the United Kingdom that and the US which could pressure Bahrain to put an end for these practices or at least condemn them. The eight were part of a group of 31 people who were stripped of their nationality in 2012, on the grounds that they posed a ‘threat to public security’.
Meanwhile, the security forces continue to enforce a ban on the central Friday prayers at Imam Al Sadiq Mosque in Duraz, which used to host Bahrain’s Shiite congregation. Armoured vehicles are deployed to cordon off the mosque; concrete barricades and police checkpoints are used to restrict people’s movement. Duraz’s residents, the hometown of Bahrain’s highest religious authority Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim and prominent dissents have been subjected to an unprecedented lockdown by the security forces.
Ayatollah Qassim was arbitrarily denaturalized in 2016, over allegations of money laundering related to the Khums religious practice and fuelling extremism. The revocation was widely dismissed as politically motivated and part of the government ongoing bloody crackdown on dissent. The 80-year-old ailing cleric was deprived of adequate medical care, which led to numerous health complications.
The spiritual leader of the Shiite majority in Bahrain, Ayatollah Qassim, underwent surgery on the first of February 2018. Bahrain’s largest opposition bloc Al-Wefaq party said that the authorities procrastinated Ayatollah Qassim’s transfer to hospital for ten days. He was hospitalized last December and underwent a surgery for an abdominal hernia.
Ayatollah Qassim health has dramatically deteriorated since security forces stormed his home in Duraz, killed five, arrested around 300 demonstrators and placed him under house arrest in May 2017. He has had his 1-year suspended prison sentence upheld by the Cassation Court on 29 January 2018. Moreover, the court has also revoked his authority over the Shiite religious practice of khums--payments made by Shiite to clerics for charitable purposes.
Sondoss Al Asaad is a Lebanese Bahraini freelance writer and translator; based in Beirut, Lebanon. Al Asaad writes on issues of the Arabs and Muslims world, with special focus on the Bahraini uprising.