Bahrain: Dead End for a regime guilty of systematic torture – Bahrain Freedom Movement

31/12/2011 – 1:41 p | Hits: 1166

The incompatibility of the Bahraini regime with modern standards of democracy and human rights has been clearly manifested in Bissiouni’s report. Yet Al Khalifa allies continue to prop up a regime that has been proven to use systematic torture and extra-judicial killing. There is ample evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed. Shouldn’t ICC be involved? 15th December 2011

Lord Avebury, Vice-chairman Parliamentary Human Rights Group: I suppose the big question for today is whether in the long term the Bassiouni commission has been good for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Bahrain.

From the al-Khalifas’ point of view, the commission achieved at least one of its objectives – it relieved the international pressure on the regime caused by the use of live ammunition against demonstrators, mass arrests, torture and deaths in custody, arbitrary sentences by kangaroo courts, and widespread dismissals of hundreds of workers. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary a month before Bassiouni started work, asking him to condemn the sentences passed by a military court on leading members of the opposition and human rights activists, and he replied at the end of August saying

“…it is important we wait for the Commission’s findings… before recommending further action”.

So its clear that Bassiouni gave them a breathing space, and that effect continues down the line as they would naturally ask for time to consider the Commission’s recommendations.

I particularly liked the description by Brian Dooley the Director of Human Rights Defenders of Bassiouni’s press conference launching his report in the king’s palace and I quote:

“Speaking from the podium to a room the size of a football field, replete with thick carpet and chandeliers the size of trucks, Bassiouni announced what…  international human rights organistions had been saying for many months. He confirmed that thousands of people were detained, many tortured in custody, some until they died. He confirmed that the criminal justice system is a farce and that those accused had confessions tortured out of them nd were denied their rights to proper legal access or fair trials. He confirmed that more than a dozen civilians were killed by security forces, and that thousands more have been dismissed from their jobs or university places because of perceived association with the protests”

The royals couldn’t have enjoyed listening to this catalogue of abuse except when Bassiouni changed his tone and was ‘fawningly polite’, but the king pretended that he hadn’t been aware of any of the abuses and tried to compare them with cases heard before the European Court of Human Rights. Not only are there orders of magnitude differences between what happens in Europe and the events in Bahrain, but the European Court provides remedies for the victims of human right violations.

Now the king comes running to David Cameron to complain about the criticisms of Bahrain in the Iranian media.  He can no longer peddle the line that unrest on the streets in Bahrain was fomented by Iran after Bassiouni found there was no substance in that allegation, so he has the cheek to attack the Iranian media when the broadcast media in Bahrain are totally under state control, websites and blogs are censored, and the one newspaper that was slightly critical was arbitrarily closed down for months, with the loss of several hundred jobs.

The king got what he wanted when Foreign Office Minister Alastair Burt travelled to Bahrain to say that the way in which the government and the opposition had accepted the findings of the commission report provided a good base for all Bahrain to get close together to resolve the difficulties in the past. So the people are to forget about political reform, which was not in Bassiouni’s terms of reference. In fact Bassiouni had undermined the Commission’s credibility when he gave a press conference half way through the inquiry exonerating the al-Khalifas for all the abuses committed on their watch. Bassiouni didn’t even refer to the doctrine under international law of ‘command responsibility’, by which for instance under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, superiors bear individual responsibility for crimes committed by forces under their effective command and control if they either knew or … should have known that the forces were committing or about to commit [war] crimes.

The king and the other royals knew perfectly well what was going on, and even if they are not to stand trial, its absurd to imagine that the opposition are going to sit down and talk to them about the Basiouni recommendations as if nothing had happened since last February.

More to the point, since the king said he would implement the recommendations, how about establishing an independent and impartial mechanism to determine the accountability of those in government, including senior military and civilian officials. When are we going to see the release and pardon of all those convicted of nonviolent political crimes including all those sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court: Abdul Wahab Hussai; Hassan Mushaima; Mohammed Habib al-Saffaf; Abduljalil al-Singace; Saeed Mirza al-Nouri, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.  It is not for me to determine the conditions which might be necessary for a dialogue between the dictatorship and the opposition to begin, but I would be very surprised if they didn’t include the unconditional release of political prisoners, and the payment of compensation to them for the injuries they suffered under torture.

I also think that as in other Arab countries, the days of absolute dictatorship need to be ended in Bahrain, and that the royal family should declare its willingness to agree a transition to a constitutional monarchy, in which a fairly elected Shura appoints ministers, determines the budget and passes the laws. If that could be the basis of the dialogue, I do believe it would be possible to make progress towards a democratic future in which the elected representatives of the people would ensure that systematic violations of their rights could never occur again.

Bahraini Lawyer Mohammed Tajir (speaking via Skype): Good morning Lord Avebury

Mohammad Al Tajir, prominent Bahraini lawyer: (speaking via Skype from Cairo). I was released in August and heard that the King would pardon leaders and activists. He also said he wanted to pardon detainees who had been charged falsely.  The  BICI report said the articles used to charge leaders and others should be dismissed. It said that all the convictions against the political leaders should be proved.

We also heard that the regime would drop charges against medics but the trials are still going on.

We should insist that the commission and its report and recommendation should be implemented. We are waiting for this implementation.

Since I was released I went to the court after they unfroze my work. I have more than 100 detainees who had been tortured as Bissiouni said. Most of them had been to hospital for treatment. Cases similar to my case  and to those of others are still going on. There is no will to give people their rights. They want to fool people with simple acts like what they had done ten years. Democracy is only for media.

Real reform is not possible. Simple civil rights are not guaranteed. We cannot have access to detainees like Sheikh Mustarshid, Mohammad Sahwan and Imad and others. We do not know what had happened to them. They had been taken to hospital several times. Demonstrators continue to be hit with rubber bullets. Simple rights can be observed such as getting fast treatment for injured people or to allow them to speak out.

Saed Shehabi: My question to you is whether there is from your experience specially with the other lawyers, whether the regime is really ready for any serious compromise on political matters and whether those like Al Wifaq, for example which is calling for a constitutional monarchy, would really be heard and listened to or would the regime just wash aside every respectable request for reform.

Mohammed Al Tajir:  Even simple human rights like approaching the detainees once they have been detained.  We have not managed to see detainees like Mohammed Safwan even though we made big propaganda that they have been detained. We have not reached them. We don’t know what to say to their families. We do not know what is happening to them. We are reading the news.

            Last night in their village their were injuries to the head by rubber bullets and shot guns. These are  civil rights to get treatment for the injured. Any body who goes to hospital or to a clinic can be detained even  though he is ill. How can political reforms be implemented.

Lord Avebury: Thank you very much Mohammed Al Tajir. We look forward to hearing from you in the future but for the time being we will say goodbye and good luck. Keep in touch.

Mohammed Sadiq, Justice for Bahrain: Thank you my Lord, good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about what is happening in Bahrain. We have heard a lot from doctors, lawyers, students, teachers and those very well known cases which were reported in the media.

            But we have other cases which the media never gave any attention to. They have been oppressed twice once by  the Al Khalifa regime and also by our silence. We are continuing to campaign for cases such as the one of Fadilah Mubarak a 37-year-old mother of an eight- year old son. She was beaten and tortured. Her only crime was listening to revolutionary songs in her car and she refused to turn off the music player. She was afraid she would be kidnapped because when she was stopped no identification was given to her of who she was stopped by. She thought she would be kidnapped.

            So when she refused she was taken out of her car and was beaten in front of her son and nieces. She as taken to the police station with these kids till her husband came to release her.

            Since then she has been sentenced to four years in prison.  The sentence has been reduced to a year and half. But she should not have been given that sentence and she should not be in prison at all.

            Fadhila Mubarak has spent eight months in prison I believe the BICI  report and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has often mentioned unfair trials and how the trail has been conducted. However her sentence is ridiculous for listening to your  choice of music.

            She mentioned that she pushed the person who dragged her out of the car. She was not aware he was a police officer. I would do the same thing if I was afraid I would be kidnapped. She keeps asking why is nobody talking about me? Why have I been forgotten? And we have taken an oath that we would not forget about her and we would campaign for her. We are committed to keep talking about her and other cases that have been forgotten like that of women who were sentenced to six months in prison just because they were to protest.  There is a lack of access to lawyers, a lack of access to witnesses, not enough time consider the evidence.

            Other cases that we have forgotten about  like that of Ashraq Al Mugabi. She needs medical attention. She was in hospital for a couple of days and the police dragged her out of hospital. We need to push for her to get treatment as soon as possible. We came to her trial and how she has been tried. The ICI and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is asking for evidence.  None of those people who have been sentenced  or taken to prison have had a fair trial. Neither the British government nor any other government has asked the king who was recently in Britain to give those people a fair trial and give them access to a lawyer or witnesses or to normal legal procedure.

            Other cases that have been mentioned by the BICI report and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is the case of three people who have been sentenced to death.  The Bahraini government those tried those three people at the same time as the trial of the doctors. They were hidden at the back. We only hear about the doctors but we do not hear about those three who have been sentenced to death. Those who have been sentenced to death had an appeal on 28th November but this has been adjourned until  January. They have no access to lawyers one of whom was Mohammed Al Tajir.

            Those guys were accused of killing a police officer by allegedly driving over  him and we have to go through the witnesses and evidences.  The BICI  report is asking to commute the sentence from a death sentence to a life sentence. We are not asking them to reduce the sentence – we are asking for them to be released because we find that there is not enough evidence of the crime for which they have sentenced.

            So here are a number of cases. You have heard the name of Fadhila Mubarak and I will repeat it again. She is a 37-year-old woman who has been forgotten and is in an Al Khalifa prison. Her son has spent his Eid without his mother, he has gone to school without his mother and he is spending time in the houses of his father and his uncle and I believe everyone here has a child and can understand what it is like for him to live without his mother, without his parents.

So I urge you again to remember the of Fadhla Mubarak, to remember the three guys who have been sentenced to death. One person was killed during torture. Remember those who are seeking your help.

In Justice for Bahraini we are committed to campaign for those detainees and for justice in Bahrain.

Lord Avebury: What we obviously need is a follow-up to both the BICI  report and the reports of human rights organisations in Bahrain. We hear that there are ongoing violations of human rights on a  fairly large scale and there isn’t any redress for it. Baisscouni has finished his work and presumably is not going to pursue any of the cases which have not been resolved despite the recommendations. We can to what little is available to us through the Foreign Office. But you can see from the kings visit and the visit of  Alastair Burt the Minister of the Foreign Office to Bahrain. The policy of the FCO is not to resolve  these cases of torture and continued imprisonment but to sweep everything under the carpet and to embark on some sort of dialogue. We do need  supplement to the BICI report which will enable campaigners in this country and elsewhere to continue bombarding their own governments with requests for these matter to be raised continually with the king so they are not forgotten.

Rodney Shakespeare: You are actually hitting now on what I believe to be the crux of the matter. The crux of the matter is whether the UK government is forwarding the national interest and my question to the Foreign Office is, exactly what is the national interest that the UK thinks it is following in taking the attitude that it is. Everybody knows what the Bahraini government is and yet the UK is continuing to support it. And the only grounds on which it could continue to do that would be that  it is in the national interest. But nobody ever answers the questions about what the national interest actually is. Have we any means of getting that answer out so that it can be examined and explained.

Lord Avebury: We have non governmental organisations which will make this point through me or through other friends of the Bahraini people that we can take up in the Foreign Office and ask them for an answer to the question which you have just asked which is very pertinent.

Faisal Jawad, the latest victim of violence in Bahrain: The security forces and riot police flooded the area for three days continuously with tear gas. Last Friday the attack was fierce. The child inhaled large quantities of those gases. On Saturday, she was tired and pale. In the evening her colour turned into blue so we took her to hospital. We were told that her heart had stopped.  She did not have enough oxygen and they  could not do anything. When people march to the streets demanding their legitimate rights why should the houses be attacked? What is their crime? Why are they attacked in this vicious way? We urge the people to stand up for these atrocities by this regime. The cause of death of my six days old baby was poisoning and blood contamination. We appeal to all the freedom loving people and those with a human conscience to move and to put pressure in order to stop this oppression and aggression which is going on on a daily basis so that innocent people do not get killed.

            The grown ups may be guilty according to the regime but  what is the guilt of those small children? According to the death certificate the reason for the death of my daughter was poisoning and blood contamination.  We thank all those who have supported us in our hour of need.

Question: Were other people affected or only the child?

Faisal Jawad: Many other people were affected. My other daughter, my nieces were all affected and many people living in that area were affected. The next day a reporter from the New York Times visited the area and saw for himself what sort of chemicals were being used.

Lord Avebury: We would like to send the sympathies and condolences of the whole of this gathering to the father who has been deprived of the life of his daughter. Could you please relay a message of condolences from the whole of this gathering on the death of his daughter and the injuries that were caused to his other daughters and nieces.

Maryam Al Khawaja Bahrain Centre for Human Rights: I was asked to speak about the situation of the political prisoners who are still in prison today. I have here a whole list of human rights violations that have taken place since the release of the BICI report. The situation on the ground today is no different from when the report was released and the kind of attacks that were are witnessing are identical to the kind of attacks we were witnessing pre the release of the report.

            Before I go on to speak about the situation of the political prisoners today. Something very significant happened the day before yesterday. The king of Bahrain did an interview here in London and he said that there was no systematic abuse during the past ten months. He also said that protesters in Bahrain were being trained in Syria. Apparently  Iran is not as popular anymore.

            This also gives a very clear idea of where the kind stands on these issues. In the beginning it was we completely accept the findings of the BICI report, there were no apologies offered and then there was talk about reconciliation and changes. Again we have not seen any reconciliation and we have not seen changes. But for him to come out now and to say actually there was no systematic abuse and some of these protesters are being trained in Syria to overthrow our government. This is what we should be focusing on right now. The government is basically saying we don’t accept the BICI findings.

            The situation of the political prisoners has actually got worse. We received new from families that prisoners in Jo prison are being denied any hot water for their showers. The weather is very cold right now. Families are not allowed access to give them any types of clothing to protect them from the cold. They have less hours outside the cell. There are restrictions on exercise and religious rituals. Despite knowing that many of these prisoners suffer from things like sickle cell anaemia which the weather makes worse they are being denied all these things.

            Some prisoners have started a hunger strike in cell seven of the Dry Dock prison as well as in the central police station against arbitrary arrest, torture and demanding their own release. Two  of these detainees who were taken to court yesterday fainted inside the court room as they entered their  fifth day of hunger strike. When the trial hearing was adjourned Saaed Ahmed, Mohammed Saleh and Abdullah Maki were actually beaten outside the court room in front of the lawyers.  So as you can see the use of systematic abuse and beatings is not something that has stopped.

            There are many other violations that are still going on. I am not going to go into details. It is a pretty long list. I can also talk about what the government actions have been since the BICI report came out. These are not actions that are real steps of reform.

            One point that is very important to make right now is that this sets a very dangerous precedent. This idea that an  authoritarian regime can bring a royally appointed and royally paid for independent commission of inquiry to talk about the political situation and point about abuses. Then they use that report to initiate a political discussion while ignoring the continuous daily human rights abuses as a way to give themselves lee way to not have to deal with those violations. This sets a very dangerous precedent.

            If Mubarak has done this before he stepped down he may still be in power today. That is how those kinds of regimes survive. They give themselves leeway to not pay attention to the human rights violations. What is most important today is not the discussion of whether or not we agree with the BICI  report or not or whether it was complete or not or whether the recommendations were good enough. Right now the situation is that even those recommendations are not being implemented. The focus should be on the human rights violations. They are still continuous, on a daily basis. The government is not making any changes and we  should not get lost in this political question of whether we want a constitutional monarchy or republic or what not. It should be a focus on lets stop the daily human rights violations first. Then we can start talking about reconciliation and what steps are needed to be taken forward.

Lord Avebury: That is a very stark picture that you have presented and one that makes us think what the friends of Bahrain can do to focus attention on the ongoing human rights violations that you have recounted. What we need is a summary of them from both yourself and from our previous speakers so that we have an overall picture of what is going on and how the recommendations of the BICI report are being complexly ignored and the violations of human rights are ongoing without ceasing. I am absolutely horrified at the extent of these violations as you have just recounted. They need to be bought in front of Alistair Burt, MP the foreign office minister who thinks that you can commence a dialogue under these conditions. It is just ridiculous to think that the opposition is going to sit down and talk about reconciliation when they are under the thumb screws of the regime. That needs to be made plain not just to our own foreign office but to others such as the Catherine Ashton the Vice-president and high representative of the  European Union for foreign affairs and security policy. who has a role in evaluating the situation in Bahrain and deciding what the reaction of the international community.

Maryam Al Khawaja: If I could just add something from a UK perspective. I think it is very troublesome having the king come to visit the UK. His son Khalid bin Hamed Al Khalifa who has allegations of torture against him accompanied him. He was welcomed into the house which belongs to the UK government. Now that they have put out the BICI report they are going to be welcomed into Western countries.  A clear stop needs to be put to this. There needs to be a very clear message to the Bahraini government, unless you stop human rights violations today you will not be welcome into these countries.

Lord Avebury: I obviously agree with that and I will do my best to present that point of view to the British government even though it is to early to rescind the invitation to the king and his son that may be an indication of the way that the coalition government is going to view ongoing events in Bahrain. They want to  sweep everything under the carpet, have a nice conversation with the king and talk about a dialogue which can’t possibly take place.

Karen Dabrowska: I have been going to these meetings for a while and it seems to me that what we see is cycle. First there are demands for political reform, then they are neglected then there no response. Then the protests come. After the protests comes the repression, then there is international condemnation, then there are promises of reform, then there is a commission and they promise they are going to make recommendations and things are going to improve. This is the stage where we are at now. Everybody says maybe it will get better, give them a chance. Then things die down, nothing happens then we go back in the cycle, the demand for political reforms, no response and this has been going on for years now. The only way to stop this is to get the Al Khalifas off the people’s backs. If you look at Libya they were promising there is Saif Al Islam he is a nice guy, there are going to be political reforms, we have let Human Rights Watch in. But at the end of the day it is just an excuse for them to stay in power, pretend they are reforming, give contracts to the West and they get left alone.

Lord Avebury: I think that is a very accurate description of what happened in the past and what will happen in the future unless there is a change of attitude by the international community.

Question: You mentioned the king’s son in the accusations. Some of the accounts that I have heard from ex detainees have recounted that they saw members of the royal family taking part in torture or other abuses. Is that still the case now and how are you documenting it?

Maryam Al Khawaja: We put out a report about allegations of  five members of the royal family being involved directly in torture, two of them being the kings sons and three others who are members of the royal family. The reason we put out this report was because we got a number of testimonies from people who were tortured that they were tortured by them. Some of these people are still in prison today. We don’t know if the situation is continuing. Our centre does not have access to any kind of governmental institution. They only was we get information is through the lawyers, the families or the prisoners themselves, if we get to meet them when they are released.

            So unfortunately it is not easy to get that kind of information. According to our knowledge these people who have had allegations of torture against them have not been removed from their positions. So if they practise what these allegations claim they have been practising they are free to do so.  That is a very concerning situation. You are speaking about the a cycle and I agree there is a cycle, In 2001 the king came out and issued decree 56 which basically said that anyone who was guilty of crimes of torture in the 1990s was not going to be held accountable. These people not only stayed in government, some of them got promoted. Some of them are still in government today. Hence even though torture stopped in 2001, 2002 in 2007 was  systematic torture come back to Bahrain. And this is going to keep happening.

            The only thing I would disagree with is that the situation is going to be similar to 2001. The people who started the uprising earlier this year are old enough to remember what happened in 2001. That is going to be something that is going to make this situation different.  They are old enough to remember that the king came out and made promises and they are old enough to remember that he broke every single one of those promises. That is why they are not going to be that gullible and say if he makes these promises again we are going to believe him and allow things to go back to how they were in 2001.

            There is definitely a cycle. What we have seen so far is that there are absolutely no steps taken to change the situation. The employment of John Yates and John Timony from the United States is not a good sign. John Timony from the United States is known for repressing protesters. How do you then bring someone like that to train security forces  the security forces. Bahrain has a precedent of bringing people from abroad to train people inside Bahrain on how to deal with the Bahraini people. For example Ian Henderson who was brought in from the UK. These are not good examples.

            If you want to create change within the country you involve the Bahrainis. You don’t bring from abroad and say they know better. There was a very detailed report that was put out called the five fatal breaches of the BICI Commission. This report spoke about why the actual initiation of this commission was not according to international standards. This commission was supposed to have Bahraini people in it – people trusted by the Bahraini community. This was non existent. It was people who were employed, brought in and paid for by the government. And that is why we came out with the result we have today.

Question: A key question. In mentioning the political prisoners was there any news of the treatment of Hassan Mushaima? The last time we talked there was the issue that Hassan Mushaima had cancer and that he needed urgent treatment.  Is there any news about that?

Maryam Al Khawaja: I don’t have specific information. Maybe his son can update you on his condition. Part of that is because the 14 prisoners who were kept in a military prison were transferred to Jo Prison. Jo Prison is known for being worse than any of the other prisons. It has worse conditions than the others. That is one of the places where they are not being allowed any form of warm clothing or warm water. My guess is that anyone who has a health condition will see it worsening.

Lord Avebury: I am very anxious about Dr Abdul Jalil Singace. His state of health is not good. He is totally disabled and I was dismayed that they removed his crutches and made him crawl to get from his cell to the lu. That was so barbaric it is unbelievable. So  we should be pressing for independent investigators to look into the medical state of the detainees. People like Medicines sans Frontiers. If the king to be persuaded to allow some independent medical authorities to into the health of the prisoners if they are not going to release them. If they are not going to be released they should at least be allowed access to independent doctors who can make recommendations  on how they should be treated.

Maryam Al Khawaja: The government of Bahrain has announced that they will be allowing access for the Red Cross into prisons and this might be the only real step that they have taken so far. But the question is when. If they are going to come in two years that is not going to make much of a difference. It has to be now.

Lord Avebury: One of the principles of the Red Cross is that they never announce the findings of their investigators. So we would not know anything about the health of the individuals who are suffering from cancer and other diseases.

Hussain Abdullah: Bahraini Americans for Democracy and Human Rights: Thank you Lord Avebury for having these seminars on Bahrain. The focus is on human rights and on the political struggles of the people of Bahrain.


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