Kuwait: Allegations of torture of Bedoon activists must be investigated, and they must be freed immediately
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has received reports that Kuwait’s State Security Bureau is still holding peaceful Bedoon activists Hamoud Al-Rabah, Khalifa Al-Anzi, and Reda Al-Fadhli, although they have not committed any violation of the law. The Public Prosecutor's Office has also failed to transfer them to a public prison yet.
In addition, on 29 July 2019, the Magistrate's Court agreed to the Public Prosecutor’s request to extend the detention of a dozen Bedoon activists for an additional 21 days and to refer them to the Public Prison. At the moment, the following 12 activists are detained at the Public Prison: Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli, Ahmed Al-Onan, Awad Al-Onan, Abdullah Al-Fadhli, Mutaib Al-Onan, Mohammed Khudair Al-Anzi, Yousif Al-Osmi, Nawaf Al-Bader, Hamid Jamil, Yousif Al-Bashig, Jarallah Al-Fadhli, and Ahmed Shaya Al-Anzi.
One member of the Bedoon community, Bader Al-Tamimi, was released on 26 July 2019 on bail of 500 Kuwait Dinar (1465 Euro), after his arrest two days earlier.
At the beginning of his interrogation at the Public Prosecutor’s Office on 14 July 2019, activist Mohammed Al-Anzi demanded to be transferred to the Forensic Medicine Department in order to investigate his allegations that he was subjected to torture after his arrest. The interrogation lasted from the evening until the early morning hours, when his request for referral to the Forensic Medicine Department was rejected.
According to reports received by GCHR, Mohammed Al-Anzi, who was arrested on 11 July 2019, was taken outside the prison within a building belonging to the State Security Bureau and brought to the desert where his whole body was buried in the sand, except his head. An officer from the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents’ Affairs, together with the State Security officers present, beat and abused Al-Anzi. This torture caused a head wound that required three stitches.
The refusal of the Public Prosecutor to refer Bedoon activists who have been tortured to the Forensic Medicine Department to investigate their claims is an explicit violation of Kuwait’s law, and represents a clear attempt to hide the evidence of the crime of torture - by perpetrators who mostly are members of the security services - against peaceful activists and other citizens. It should be noted that this rejection has occurred in previous cases in the recent past. Furthermore, one of the Department’s members stated that they do not have the competence to investigate the claims of torture.
In other developments, lawyers were not allowed to meet separately with the detained Bedoon activists. Some lawyers tried to request a private meeting with the activists and were abused by State Security officers who were present at the Public Prosecution to monitor the investigation. The Public Prosecutor's Office carried out the wishes of the State Security Bureau and, contrary to the law, prevented unilateral meetings between lawyers and their clients. In addition, a woman lawyer was prevented from speaking to a detained activist and was abused by a State Security officer
According to reliable local sources, the State Security Bureau hide the evidence of torture by completely changing the clothes of the detained activists when they were arrested and giving them special clothes to be worn during their detention. Prison clothes showing signs of blood and torture are disposed of and activists are asked to wear the clothes that they were wearing when they were arrested, which were cleaned before they put them back on to go to the Public Prosecution. Also, in cases of severe torture, some of the detained activists have been prevented from seeing anyone until the effects of torture disappeared. All this behaviour constitutes the systematic practices of the State Security Service, which has been going on for a long time.
Activist Nawaf Al-Bader also showed signs of torture before he was transferred to the Public Prison, and despite his request to be referred to the Forensic Medicine Department, the Public Prosecution refused. The signs of torture were swelling of his face and disorientation - such as lack of comprehension of time and place in addition to not answering when his name was called at the beginning of the investigations with the Public Prosecution on 14 July 2019.
Al-Bader was interrogated about an account he allegedly runs on Twitter defending the rights of the Bedoon community. In connection with his case, two Kuwaiti nationals, Omar Al-Shammari and Yousif Al-Hubeish, were arrested on 29 July 2019 and brought before the Public Prosecution on 01 August 2019. The two men were reportedly linked to the arrest of Al-Bader and are still being held at the State Security Bureau.
According to several local sources, most of the arrests of Bedoon activists took place in an atmosphere of beatings, cursing and threats of arrest, including of members of the families of the arrested activists.
For example, the state security forces went to the farm where the family of the activist Hamid Jamil was present, and threatened to take the men and children as hostages until he surrendered. He was arrested on 13 July 2019.
It is important to separate the Forensic Medicine Department from the structure of the Ministry of Interior and link it to the Ministry of Health. Referring citizens, including activists, to the Forensic Medicine Department, often accompanied by an officer from the State Security Bureau, puts them under pressure. In addition, the Public Prosecution must be fully independent and not inclined to endorse the accounts of the security services, but must enjoy full independence and credibility.
GCHR strongly believes that the continued detention of Bedoon activists is a flagrant violation not only of fundamental human rights principles, but of the Kuwaiti Constitution, which stipulates the right of individuals to peaceful assembly.
GCHR urges the Government of Kuwait to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders from the Bedoon community along with the rest of the activists, and drop all charges against them;
- Grant the right to independent forensic medical investigations for each of the alleged victims of abuse and torture. Any evidence obtained by torture should be excluded from trial. The competent Kuwaiti authorities should also carry out independent and thorough criminal investigations into allegations of torture;
- Transfer the remaining activists in custody to a public prison and ensure that they are treated properly in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;
- Fully recognise the civil and human rights of the Bedoon community in Kuwait; and
- Ensure, in all circumstances, that all human rights defenders in Kuwait are able to carry out their legitimate work in the field of human rights without fear of punishment and free from all restrictions including judicial harassment.