Bahrain sexually abuses detainees, still ‘capital of torture’ despite UK support – HRW

© Hamad I Mohammed
Bahrain has been torturing detainees using electric shocks and sexual abuse, Human Rights Watch has found. Despite the King of Bahrain pledging to end such practices, torture and beatings remain common, a new HRW report says.

Britain, a close ally of the gulf monarchy, has been arguing that Bahrain has reformed its security forces and is following the recommendations of its Independent Investigation Commission (BICI). The UK’s policy is “to support Bahrain in its return to a stable and reformist state with a good human rights record,” the Foreign Office said late last month.

However, HRW disputes this, saying that "Bahraini authorities have failed to effectively implement the BICI recommendations for combatting torture; that the new offices have failed to fulfill their mandate; and that Bahraini security forces continue to torture detainees using methods identical to those documented by BICI investigators in 2011, and by Human Rights Watch in 2010.”

A former prisoner in Bahrain who talked to HRW recalled how an interrogator told him: “I’ll show you why Wifaq [the country’s Shia opposition party] calls Bahrain the capital of torture.” Another detainee told Human Rights Watch that an officer from Bahraini Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) held something to his nose and told him it was “the blood of people who don’t cooperate.”

HRW interviewed 10 detainees who said they had repeatedly endured coercive interrogations at CID and in police stations since 2012. Four former inmates of Jaw prison told the group they had been physically assaulted earlier this year, in March.

Many said that CID interrogators boasted of their reputation for torturing detainees. Several described electric shocks; suspension in painful positions, including by their wrists while handcuffed; forced standing; extreme cold; and abuse of a sexual nature, according to the report.

One detainee, human rights advocate Hussain Jawad, was arrested in February 2015. He told HRW that during one interrogation session an officer squeezed his genitals, causing extreme pain, and threated to force a bottle into his anus. After this, Jawad agreed to confess to involvement in a violent protest, a charge he denied when taken to the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Jawad’s lawyer was not present at that meeting, and Jawad told a public prosecutor that he had been tortured. Despite his allegations, the prosecutor ordered him returned to the CID. Jawad told HRW that CID officers repeatedly punched and kicked him, and showed him pictures of his young son, which they had on their phones. He said they also threatened to rape his wife, and accused him of having homosexual relations with other activists.

Another man, Mohamed Bader, was detained on his return from Syria last February, and taken to the CID. According to Bader, officers blindfolded him, handcuffed him with his hands behind his back, and placed him in a solitary confinement cell. On his first day of interrogation, CID officers beat him unconscious, necessitating a head X-ray in Al-Qala’a prison. At the next interrogation, the officers tried to persuade him to confess to involvement with Hezbollah. When he denied any involvement and refused to make a confession, officers applied electric shocks to his knees and ribs, he told Human Rights Watch.

READ MORE: British-Bahraini citizen files torture claim against Gulf Kingdom’s attorney general

According to HRW’s 84-page report, the abuses that former detainees described mostly followed a general pattern, from the moment of arrest, through detention and interrogation, culminating in an interrogation with a public prosecutor. Human Rights Watch said that the techniques used during interrogations “violate Bahrain’s obligations as a state party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [Convention against Torture] and other international treaties, and contravene the prohibition of torture in Bahrain’s constitution and its penal code.”

Ruled by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the small island kingdom has been rocked by anti-government Shia-led protests since 2011, with calls for more freedoms in the Sunni-ruled country. A 2011 uprising in which peaceful and unarmed protesters took part was brutally suppressed with the help of Saudi Arabia, which sent its troops to back the Bahraini regime.

The majority Shia population has repeatedly complained of discrimination and a lack of democracy in the oil-rich kingdom. The Sunni monarchy has accused Iran (a majority Shia country) of instigating unrest in Bahrain.

In 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by King Hamad to probe allegations of torture, concluded in its 500-page report that the National Security Agency and the Interior Ministry “followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody.”