Torture, Physical Coercion and Reprisals in Bahrain Belie Commitment to Reform



I. Introduction

1. This report intends to provide an evaluation of progress since 2014 made by the government of Bahrain in response to previous allegations of human rights abuses, including the use of torture. It is timely because it has been six years since the crackdown on the Arab Spring protests began in 2011, which led to an international investigation known as the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The resulting recommendations provided a path to rectify past conduct and to establish rules and institutions that would ostensibly prevent recurrence of misbehaviour on the part of Bahraini police and internal security officials. The history of democratic reform and respect for human rights in Bahrain has been one of the mixed signs of promise and disappointment. Unfortunately, consistent with the pattern, this report finds that the path that followed the BICI recommendations had initial promise but was diverted by a disappointing lack of serious and long-term commitment to reform by the authorities. The main objective of this report is to inform international observers and motivate the Bahraini government to undertake substantive, constructive and permanent corrective action, rather than merely symbolic gestures of compliance with international human rights law. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) will submit the report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) among other UN bodies.

II. Summary

2. As this report details, there is substantial evidence to indicate that, since 2014, the practices of torture such as severe beating, electric shock, painful suspension, and forced standing, have been continued by law enforcement and internal security personnel in Bahrain. Additionally, fundamental rights to free expression, peaceable assembly and association, travel without restriction, due process, fair trial, and effective representation of counsel have been denied routinely and systematically by security forces and the courts.

3. This report also concludes that there is continued systematic targeting in Bahrain of human rights defenders and journalists for reprisals, intimidation, and punishment, with the apparent intent to deter or silence the investigation and reporting of human rights abuses. Reprisals “take many forms, ranging from smear campaigns, threats, travel bans, harassment, fines, the closing of organisations, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and lengthy prison sentences through to torture, ill-treatment and even death” according to a July 2013 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).

4. The Department of Cyber Crime within the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) of the Interior Ministry has become especially adept at social media surveillance and bringing charges against human rights defenders and others based upon any expression of dissent, using overly broad, vaguely-defined laws like spreading “false news,” “insulting a statutory body,” or “undermining the prestige” of Bahrain. Such laws have become a pretext for suppression of any form of dissent.

5. It is important to acknowledge efforts to redress previous allegations of human rights violations and provide accountability for government misconduct, through the creation of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman. These institutions were set up in response to the November 2011 recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), in addition to the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission. But this report’s findings indicate that these organisations have failed to effectively investigate and prosecute security forces and high officials for torture and serious mistreatment of persons in custody and have not deterred government misconduct. On the contrary, these institutions have, since their introduction, taken part in covering up some of the violations that occur.

6. It is further important to note that on 14 September 2015, the UNHRC issued a statement joined by 33 states, including the US and the United Kingdom, criticising Bahrain for detaining dissidents and calling for the release of political prisoners and the revision of laws that restrict freedom of expression. This report underscores the continuing problem of unjustifiable detention by Bahraini authorities of individuals for simple expressions of dissent or non-violent protest, compounded by the deliberate targeting of human rights defenders and journalists to stifle the investigation and reporting of human rights violations, rather than addressing the violations through fair and proper investigations and prosecutions, where appropriate.

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