Bahrain: Hopes for justice and reform fading say Amnesty International

13 Five years after a wave of protests demanding widespread reform rocked Bahrain, hopes for progress on human rights and accountability for past and present abuses have faded, say Amnesty International. The mass protests which began on 14 February 2011 were met with violence by the security forces, who shot dead and injured protesters. Others died in custody after being tortured.

“Five years since the uprising, torture, arbitrary detention and a widespread crackdown against peaceful activists and government critics have continued. Today in Bahrain, anyone who dares to criticize the authorities – whether a human rights defender or political activist – risks punishment,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“Despite pledges from the authorities to prosecute security forces responsible for human rights violations in 2011, the Bahraini people are still waiting for justice. Institutions set up to protect human rights have not only failed to independently investigate or hold perpetrators to account, but now increasingly appear to be used to whitewash continuing abuses.”

Despite pledges from the authorities to prosecute security forces responsible for human rights violations in 2011, the Bahraini people are still waiting for justice.
James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International
Political activists, human rights defenders, teachers and doctors were amongst those arrested for leading or participating in the 2011 protests or speaking out about abuses. Many of them remain behind bars. Several are serving life sentences, in some cases after being convicted based on “confessions” they said were extracted through torture. In stark contrast, there has been no accountability for the overwhelming majority of violations. The few members of the security forces who were prosecuted for committing violations, including those who fatally shot protesters, were either acquitted for “self-defence” or given token sentences that did not reflect the gravity of the violations.

“The failure to effectively hold security officers who committed abuses in 2011 to account sends the message that torture and arbitrary and abusive force will go unpunished. The authorities must rein in the security forces and make absolutely clear that violations will not be tolerated and those responsible will be brought to justice,” said  Lynch.bahrain_financial_harbour_3-517x300

Meanwhile, a report by  Reuters news agency, originally pulished by RT reveals that
British tax payers are spending millions bankrolling a Bahraini police watchdog that failed to investigate torture allegations regarding a young political activist on death row in the Gulf state.
The funding forms part of a broader £2.1 million ($3 million) scheme to improve Bahrain’s criminal justice system and was sparked by Britain’s close strategic ties to the kingdom.

Since Bahrain’s  crackdown on the Arab Spring protests of 2011, human rights groups have expressed concern over its security services’ use of violence and torture. Those with concerns about detainees’ treatment in Bahrain have been encouraged by the British government to contact the Gulf state’s police ombudsman. But the British-funded watchdog’s failure to investigate a complaint lodged by the family of a political activist on death row has brought its reputation into disrepute.
A  32-year-old airport guard from Bahrain, identified as Ramadan,says he suffered torture and physical abuse at the hands of Bahraini authorities as punishment for his peaceful political activities. He is currently on death row, awaiting execution.

Ramadan says he has been kept in solitary confinement and beaten in the genital area, where he previously needed surgery. His death sentence was upheld in November 2015 by Bahrain’s top court of appeal, and his torture allegations have been reportedly ignored.

Although he was allegedly tortured in the early phase of his detention, Ramadan made no confessions. Nevertheless, a court accepted the confession of another defendant who was also sentenced to death. The man in question is believed to have been beaten until he gave Ramadan’s name and that of others he was linked to. His wife, Zaynab Ebrahim, is calling on UK ministers to stop his execution and demand he be given a retrial.

“His hands were cuffed from behind and they beat him severely with the use of wires and punches and kicking in a random and sustained manner to coerce his confession,” she told The Guardian newspaper.

“[The jailers] also detained him in a very cold room and they refused to let him sit, and whenever he tried to sit he was beaten and humiliated. When he told them he cannot stand for long due to a back problem, they increased the pressure on him [to stand].”

Bahrain’s Ministry of Information Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs said Ramadan was convicted of murdering a police officer and attempting to murder another using an explosive device and insists Ramadan was afforded all his legal rights and given access to legal representation at each stage of his trial and appeal process.

The Ministry of Information Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs went on to claim medical examinations carried out during Ramadan’s detention proved his torture claims to be false.

Last week, the European parliament passed a resolution urging Bahraini ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to grant a royal pardon to Ramadan. However, officials in Bahrain maintain they have no record of a complaint to the ombudsman and that allegations of ill treatment and torture are being falsely claimed by the defendant, his family and his lawyer.

The head of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, said the Gulf state had attempted to use “flawed institutions, paid for by the British taxpayer” to block the European resolution.
Britain’s close ties to the kingdom of Bahrain are innately strategic. The Gulf kingdom has given the British government permission to build a naval base there – the first of its kind east of the Suez Canal in 45 years. Labour justice spokesperson Andy Slaughter, who previously forced the government to withdraw its funding of Saudi prison reforms, sharply criticized Britain’s relations with Bahrain. “Once again we see the British government giving aid and comfort to a regime with an appalling human rights record,” he said.

“The Bahraini authorities stand accused of abuse of legal process, including forced confessions and use of torture in the case of Mohammed Ramadan and many others.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned in January that credible allegations of abuse and torture of detainees in Bahrain undercuts claims that the state’s criminal justice system is improving. The group said that new institutions in the Gulf state are “sham reforms,” and demanded to know how Bahrain and Britain’s governments could possibly claim they were protecting prisoners from abuse during interrogation.

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