Proceedings of the annual seminar on Bahrain at House of Lords – Bahrain Freedom Movement

The annual seminar on Martyr’s anniversary was held today at the House of Lords, chaired by Lord Avebury, and addressed by human rights activists including a Bahraini lawyer.

Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group started the debate saying that this seminar is being held as human rights defenders in Bahrain are attached and jailed and voices of freedom silenced. The recent trials of the innocent detainees have taken a dramatic turn when the lawyers withdrew last year. We must remember that Dr Abdul Jalil Al Singace was one of the regular participants in this seminar and he was with us this time last year. He is jailed because he objected to abuse of fellow citizens. Despite the lawyers’ demands for investigation of torture claims the judge refused to investigate. If the court now appoints new lawyers this is against international covenants as defendants have the right to choose their lawyers.. Thus a stalemate is possible.

There are many special procedures that may be invoked to deal with the situation in Bahrain. The Special Rapporteur on Torture says that he has not receive complaints about ill-treatment or requests to visit Bahrain. We need to collect evidence and supply it to the UN procedures to make info readily available. Hillary Clinton has been to Bahrain recently to attend a regional conference and was approached about the human rights violation in that country. I am also aware that Nabeel Rajab had been detained and his computer tampered with. This is an attack on human rights defenders, and this shows that what is happening is not random attacks on individuals. Extracting confessions under torture is a criminal act and must be stopped. It is clear that the regime is intent on crushing peaceful opposition. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her address on the International Human Rights Day stressed the need to protect human rights defenders. We need to step up international campaign especially with EU, and work to mobilize Mrs Ashton to take up the case of Bahrain. We also need to speak out against the demographic change in Bahrain that is affecting the Shia majority. Four years ago we had Dr Salah Al Bandar in this room to inform us about the extent of the Al Khalifa plan to change the demography. His 240 pages report presented a strong case but the world kept quiet because it did not fit within its interests. Shia are being marginalized in their native country.

Then Maryan Al Khawaja, of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights delivered a power point presentation of the children target for arrests and human rights violations. She presented the cases of several of them whom she said are victims of physical and psychological abuse by the regime. Ali Abbas Al Furaikh, 17 was kidnapped and tortured. The systematic attacks claimed many victims including the young girl from Dair town, Fatima who subjected to horrific torture. She was hit and thrown on the wall causing her injuries to the face. Miss Al Khawaja presented images of these victims that moved the audience. The torture of detained children includes abduction, beating tear gas, punching and kicking. They are taken to secret centres where abuse often takes place. They are then dropped half naked in many cases for their parents to pick them up. Several children from Arad town were abducted on 15th August and abused. Their families protested and complained but no action was taken. Mohammad Ali Hassan and Ayman Jaffar are the youngest aged ten and eleven and charged with crimes they are uncapable of committing such as manufacturing explosives. Jihad Aqeel Al Sari was arrested on 19th November in revenge against his father who is also in jail. Torture marks were visible on Isa Sarhan, 17. She then delivered a set of recommendations by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Then a skype link was made with Mohammad Al Tajir, one of the team of lawyers defending the Bahrainis. He said that after the arrests that began with Dr Abdul Jalil Al Singace’s arrest on 13th August, we formed a group of activists to defend them. But then more of these activists were arrested. We were denied access to the detainees for two weeks, without knowing where they were being held, despite repeated requests to see them. After two months of their arrest we were allowed to meet them at the court when we insisted to see them in private. We saw clearly marks of severe torture; hanging from hands and feet, beating, electric shocks etc. When they described to the court their torture ordeal, their testimonies were not recorded in the court proceedings. The basic requirements of a fair trial did not exist. Despite our requests between 28th October and 25th November we made our position clear; insisting on investigation of torture claims and re-interrogation of the defendants under the court jurisdiction and in our presence. None of these demands were met. Thus we failed to get any guarantee of a fair trial. The direct physical torture may have stopped, but other forms of torture persisted. They would not let them go to toilet for long periods or forcing them to stand for more than six hours, keeping them in total seclusion from what is happening outside. They were even prevented from hugging their loved ones when they were allowed the brief family visits that are becoming torturous to all of them. These visits would often last less than ten minutes in the presence of the torturers themselves who would prevent them from mentioning anything about their ordeals. They are not allowed to speak to each other even in passageways. They are scattered in various jails and each two or three are intermingled with prisoners of crimes. They are forced to do things that would break their wills and demoralize them such as forcing them to kiss the pictures of some officials. This mistreatment has made us unable to defend our clients in accordance with international laws. Anyone who talked in court about torture was subsequently subjected to more severe torture. The judge is in a hurry to issue his verdicts and sentences regardless of the court proceedings. He has refused to investigate torture claims or order a re-investigation under the court supervision. He has failed event to enforce the decisions he had made in the first session. We found no other way but to withdraw our defence.

Among the speakers was Professor Rodney Shakespeare, the Chairman of Arraign; a newly-formed international committee to pursue crimes against humanity in Bahrain.

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