In the middle of the night, on January 15 2017, three citizens of Bahrain were executed by firing squad. Abbas al-Samea, 27, Ali al-Singace, 21, and Sami Mushaima 42, had all been found guilty of planting a bomb which killed three policemen – but their convictions were widely seen as unsafe.
Rumours of their 3am deaths had been circulating on the social media of those with links to the government. Once the state news agency confirmed the news, many Bahrainis took to the streets in protest, confronting riot police, who used tear gas and birdshot in response. Human rights organisations condemned the killings, not simply because they oppose the death penalty, but because these executions were viewed as being political and extrajudicial.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions tweeted:
#Bahrain executed Abbas al-Samea, Ali al-Singace, Sami Mushaima. Torture, unfair trial + flimsy evidence: these are extrajudicial killings
— Dr Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) January 15, 2017
Nicholas McGeehan of Human Rights Watch added on social media: “These men’s convictions were based on retracted confessions and mired in allegations of serious torture.” It was a sentiment reflected poignantly by many Bahrainis, who formed huge queues to pay their respects to the executed men’s families.
The national controversy surrounding the executions is the latest demonstration of the political turmoil in Bahrain, and popular opposition to what is a democracy in name only. Since 2011, when widespread pro-democracy protests broke out, over a hundred civilians have been killed – many by teargas and torture. An independent report (the BICI report) documenting the events of that year revealed systematic torture, arbitrary detentions, and extra judicial killing in the streets
But things are actually getting worse. Amid the token reforms, the January executions show that Bahrain is regressing with regards to political development and human rights. The country’s only remotely critical newspaper, Al Wasat, which was shut down in 2011, has now been ordered by the government to close its online paper, too. The official reason given was that it was “jeapordising national unity and disrupting public peace”. In fact, it had been slighty critical of the executions.
Earlier this year, the government of Bahrain announced that it was reversing one of the BICI reforms which stipulated that Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA) have its powers of arrest removed. The power separation was considered important in controlling torture. Other laws enacted which have clamped down on freedom of expression, alongside the arrest of activists, have prompted accusations not of reform, but of de-democratisation. The fact that these are the first official executions to have occurred since 2010 suggest Bahrain is becoming more, not less authoritarian.
Bahrain’s small size and its reliance on foreign countries has also resulted in anger at the perceived complicity of numerous governments. Saudi troops, along with officers from states including the UAE, assisted in dealing with the unrest in 2011. Many of Bahrain’s military officers are from other Arab or Muslim countries, and many have received training by the British (including from John Yates, ex-assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard).
As a result, many Bahrainis feel increasingly isolated from the global community, who they believe are the only ones able to put pressure on the Bahrain government to reform, democratise, and implement human rights reform. Activist Maryam Al Khawaja accused the UK, Bahrain’s former protector, of abetting this authoritarian excess and allowing the executions to go ahead. She wrote on Twitter:
— Maryam Alkhawaja (@MARYAMALKHAWAJA) January 15, 2017
Protests in London outside the embassy also reflected this anger. And it is an anger founded not simply on the fact that the British response to the executions was considered “woefully inadequate”, but because the UK has been training the Bahrain police since 2011. The charity Reprieve noted that the UK also taught the Bahrainis how to “whitewash custody deaths” and provided training to the police without conducting proper human rights assessments.
As a result of the executions, frustration in Bahrain will inevitably increase. Scenes of people chanting “Down with [King] Hamad” at the police are becoming more common again. The regression back to more authoritarian ways is enabled by a lack of pressure from traditional international allies.
For the UK, this apparent “complicity” is unlikely to change. Jane Kinninmont of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, notes that Brexit will likely diminish attempts to support human rights. With traditional allies like the UK less choosy about trade, less choosy about allies, and less choosy about human rights, Bahrain is set to see more instability and unrest.
(Cartoon added by me)
On the evening of 18th November 1976, Sheikh Abdulla al-Madani, a former politician and editor of the weekly newspaper ‘Al-Mawaqef”, was found dead in a patch of desolate land near the village of Jidhafs in the North of Bahrain. He had been stripped, beaten, and stabbed to death. The police arrested three Bahraini men for the murder; Mohammed Taher Al Mahari (aged 19), Ibrahim Abdulla al-Marhoon (aged 25), Ali Ahmed Falah (aged 21). After interrogation, the three detainees admitted that they were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf (A left wing moment that operated in the Arabian Gulf at the time).
Despite initially arguing that they acted alone, the detainees later claimed that the murder had been ordered by three senior members of PFLOAG in Bahrain. These were; Ahmed Makki (aged 27), Abdul Amir Mansour (aged 24) and Muhammed Ghuloom Bucheeri (aged 28). They were also arrested. In addition to this, at least twenty-four other arrests were made, including the Bahraini leader of the Popular Front – Abdulla Mutaiwa. The investigation also revealed a PFLOAG cell in the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). Among this group was Saeed al-Onawaiti, a young Bahraini poet. However, al-Owainati was never part of PFLOAG, but rather a member of the National Liberation Front.
Torture and deaths
The inmates were reportedly subject to to brutal torture, yet the British Ambassador was ‘assured’ that although ‘the interrogation was severe, it was by no means rough by Middle Eastern standards, and while the interrogation, could be regarded as having contributed to his death, it was not the proximate cause’.
Despite the best efforts of the guards to interrogate mildly (well, by Middle Eastern standards), Muhammed Ghuloom Bucheeri reportedly fell ill and later died due to a pre-existing condition – in this case asthma (as most commentators on Bahrain will know, people having been dying in police custody from organ failure and pre-existing conditions for decades). This ‘mild’ interrogation does not explain why Ghuloom was buried in a secret grave in Manama. To this day, the government still have not told the family the exact location of Muhammed’s grave.
Before Ghuloom had time to die, he apparently confessed to a broader terrorist plot planned by PFLOAG. The plans, allegedly directed by senior PFLOAG members in Baghdad, included attacks on ministers, journalists, economic targets, and even the hijacking of a Gulf Air flight.
Although Ghuloom died at the hands of the police, Sayeed al-Owainati was interrogated, tortured, and killed by the Bahrain Defense Force. Apparently, the already uneasy relations between the BDF and the police were heightened when the BDF inferred that the police had killed al-Owainati. The BDF also allowed al-Owainati’s family see the body and the ‘obvious signs of violence’ on it.
The BDF’s killing of al-Owainati was considered a state secret, and was never publicly admitted by the Bahraini government. Members of BDF PFLOAG cell were punished as follows; one was given life imprisonment, three were given twenty years, one was given eighteen years, one was given fifteen years, and three were acquitted.
Abdulla al-Madani and the motive
The British reports of the incident stress that the motives of the leftist PFLOAG agents were based on the fact Abdulla al-Madani was the editor of a right-wing newspaper with a pro-religious and pro-government line. However, this report and the alleged motives are not necessarily that straightforward, An American diplomatic cable described Al-Madani as, ‘a populist-style critic of the government and ruling family’ – a description that Bahraini sociologist Abdulhadi Khalaf described as a bit of an overstatement. The cable also states that Al-Madani was often in tactical alignment with the leftist bloc during his tenure as head of the Shia bloc in the National Assembly. (A perhaps more worrying note in this cable is that al-Madani had leftist tendencies in his youth, but was ‘cured’ after his arrest and interrogation in the early 60s).
Although it is certainly true that Al-Mawaqef generally adopted a pro-government line, Al-Madani did ruffle a few feathers. In 1975, he published an article that criticized government attempts to surreptitiously get the religious bloc in the national assembly to support a secret meeting that would support postponing a debate about the controversial State Security Law.**** Al-Madani also upset the Americans in 1974, when he argued that the decision to station the US base in Bahrain should be subject to parliamentary debate. The Americans were naturally keen to finalize the base deal before it could be subject to public scrutiny. So while Al-Madani may have made enemies on the left, he certainly riled members of the government and the Ruling Family too.
The evidence in the al-Madani case
Two days after the murder, the British reported in a telegram that the police had ‘no clue as to the perpetrators of the murder’. However, they mention in the same telegram that there were four aggressors and that they had Bahraini accents. Unless there is an error in the telegram, it seems one of the only reasonable explanations is that there were witnesses who had spoken to/heard the accused yet could not determine who they were, and that these witnesses came forward between the time the murder was committed and between the time the telegram was sent. However, a Bahraini accent is not much to go on on. If only more witnesses would come forward who could recognize the perpetrators…
As luck would have it, this happened. Apparently on the night of the crime, at about 11pm, the alleged murderers knocked on the door of Abdulla Salah Hussein to ask directions to al-Madani’s house. Hussein, who was a registrar at a school in Abu Saibah, happened to recognise Muhammed Taher al-Mahari from when he signed him up to class. The witness also noted how he could make out a red Datsun car with a group of people sitting in, but could not identify who they were. If only the police could also find a witness who could identify those dark shadowy men.
…As luck would have it, another important witness came forward. Clearly not great with directions, the alleged murderers had already stopped at around 10.30 pm at the house of someone else to ask directions to the house of Abdulla al-Madani. However, on that occasion, Ibrahim Abdulla al-Marhoon had volunteered to knock and ask for directions. Fortunately for the police, the witness had known al-Marhoon for about a year, and also recognized the other two who were sitting in the red Datsun (Falah and al-Mahari). Another witness then claimed he saw the red Datsun outside Al-Madani’s house.
Although these rather serendipitous testimonies verified the occupants of the car, and confirmed that the accused wished to go to, and eventually parked outside al-Madani’s house, the evidence was weak – something even the British acknowledged. It is unclear whether or not anyone questioned why the perpetrators of a murder would wander around a village, knocking on the doors of people (who happened to know them) in order to ask for directions to their victim’s house. Having said that, they did claim to be drunk.
In addition to this evidence, the police already had signed confessions, which were allegedly extracted under torture. They also produced further confessions during the trial (This implies that ‘interrogation’ was still happening after the court case has started). Despite defense objections to the fact these confessions had not been produced at the committal proceedings, the evidence stood. It seems likely that the confessions were produced in this fashion as the actual evidence might not have been enough to secure convictions.
Trial and appeal
To recap, those on trial for kidnapping and killing Abdullah al-Madani were;
1) Muhammed Taher al-Mahari; 2) Ibrahim Abdulla al-Marhoon; 3) Ali Ahmed Falah; 4) Ahmed Makki; 5) Abdul Amir Mansour
The judges included one Egyptian, one Jordanian and Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Jaber Al Khalifa. (What political trial would be complete without a member of the Ruling Family). The first three men were charged with murder and other crimes. The other two (4 and 5) were charged with conspiracy and instigating murder.
Muhammed Taher al-Mahari pleaded guilty, even though he was described in a British document as ‘so limited in intellect that in England he could probably have pleaded diminished responsibility’. Ibrahim Abdulla al-Marhoon pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty of planning it and other minor offenses. Ali Ahmed Falah admitted kidnapping only. Ahmed Makki and Abdul Amir Mansour pleaded not guilty, and also claimed their confessions were extracted under torture.
In the end, Muhammed Tahar al-Mahari, Ibrahim Abdulla Al Marhoon, were convicted of murder and given the death sentence. Ali Ahmed Falah was given life imprisonment for kidnapping, although after the appeal hearings, which were concluded on 5th March 1977, Falah’s sentence was increased from life in prison to death – (the reason for which is suggested later). The president of the appeal court was a senior Al Khalifa,* and the three men were killed by shooting on 7th March 1977.
As for Ahmed Makki and Abdul Amir Mansour, who had allegedly planned the murder, they were actually acquitted. Despite this they remained in jail for eight years** afterwards – most probably to prevent them becoming heroes for the leftist cause. Again, the fact that they stayed in prison despite being acquitted illustrates the nature of political justice in Bahrain.
Pressure to arrest, pressure to kill
British reports mention how failure to make arrests would increase the likelihood of al-Madani’s religious supporters taking the law into their own hands and attacking leftists. Keen to avoid this, the Bahraini authorities wanted to make quick arrests. In addition to this, there was a lot of political pressure to make an example of PFLOAG. Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s Prime Minister, wanted to secure five executions. In fact, the Prime Minister reportedly told the British Ambassador that if the judges did not secure five death sentences, he would put the judges themselves on trial. He also added that he was making preparations for five executions.
According to the British, the Prime Minister’s attitude reflected divisions in the Ruling Family between the moderates and hardliners. Whereas the former believed that executing five Shia men would create political tension, the latter believed that executions should happen before pressure could be generated for a reprieve. The hardliners also included merchants close to the Ruling Family. In additions to this, the Saudis were pressuring to have the executions carried out as swiftly as possible, as they too feared a delay would create popular pressure for a reprieve. The judges reportedly waited for the dispute to be resolved before committing to a verdict.
It is worth noting that the Prime Minister’s attitude towards any anti-government agitation was hawkish from the get go. In 1973, a group of PFLOAG members, including two women, were arrested on put in a prison on the Bahrain Island of Um al-Hassan – where the Prime Minister said they would stay. In the same year, a PFLOAG member accused of storing weapons and explosives was also given a stiff sentence in order to deter other potential recruits.*** The Prime Minister was also angry at Kuwait’s leniency towards its own radicals. Perhaps it was the PM who pressured the Kuwaitis to expel a Bahraini leftist from University in Kuwait? Clearly the political murder of Al-Madani provided a great opportunity to move against PFLOAG, and an even better opportunity to insure continued division between religious elements and leftists.
What did the British know?
The British knew that al-Owainati had been tortured and killed by the Bahrain Defence Force. However, because this information was told to the British Ambassador in confidence and was regarded as a secret by the Bahrain government, the British said nothing. In fact, when Stan Newens, a British MP and member of the Gulf Committee , wrote to ask about the death of the Ghuloom and al-Owainati, the British simply said they could not confirm the report about the latter’s death. Of course this was untrue, and during a number of drafted letters between the Foreign Office and Newens, the British were careful not to let on how much they knew about Al-Owainati’s death. They thought it would compromise the source that had given them useful information on Bahrain’s internal situation (the name of the source is omitted, but presumably it is Ian Henderson – I have sent another FOI request in the hope of having the source disclosed).
Although the British did not divulge much information to Newens and the Gulf Committee, they sent a report of the incident along with the full details of al-Owainati’ death to Tony Crosland, the British Secretary of State at the time. What Tony Crossland did with the information is unclear, although what is clear is that British officials actively hid details of the incident from the British public. It is also unclear how much the British really knew about Ghuloom’s death. It seems unlikely that the source who knew about al-Owainati’s torture did not also reveal more about Ghuloom’s torture and the torture of the others. Indeed, despite British protestations that the presence of British officers in the Bahrain police was not their concern, they were clearly uneasy about it.
Both the National Liberation front and PFLOAG claimed that Al-Madani’s murder was a ploy by the government to frame leftists and increase religious tensions in Bahrain. A statement by the two parties read;
‘Many patriots, including workers, students, soldiers and other sections of the population in town and countryside now face brutal torture’
A report in the Morning Star noted that thousands of people marched in support of releasing the remaining PFLOAG prisoners. They were, after all, incensed that two of their number had been brutally killed in the interrogation. However,the executions and crackdown severely diminished the activities of both PFLOAG and the NLF.
The legacy of the al-Madani case
Ghuloom and Al-Owainati’s legacy has been sustained by the brutality, injustice and mystery surrounding their deaths. As for the al-Madani trial; whether or not those tried were actually guilty is up for debate, though it is clear that political pressure from Saudi, the Prime Minister and hard line merchants had a notable impact on the outcome. Additionally, the fact the British public were prevented from knowing more about al-Owainati’s death also may have contributed to reduced political pressure to press for accountability and transparency from the Bahraini government.
Over thirty years have passed since their deaths, but both Muhammed Bucheeri Ghuloom and Saeed al-Owainati remain important icons in Bahraini politics. In particular, they highlight the often brutal and opaque tactics used by the Bahraini government, who continue to use nefarious methods to combat challenges to their authority. Graffiti images of the two are still common around Bahrain, and some of al-Owainati’s poetry can be read here (Thanks @chanadbh for this link). Some of the survivors of the case are still directly involved in Bahraini politics. Ahmed Makki, for example, is a member of the National Democratic Action Society (Waad).***** Furthermore, there are still those searching for justice. For example, Muhammed Ghuloom’s sister recently gave a speech at a Waad meeting demanding that those who tortured her brother be brought to justice, and that the government finally tell them where their Muhammed is buried.
* The British document does not mention him by name, though does state the judge was a brother of the ministers of labour and education. It was probably either Khalid or Isa bin Muhammed bin Abulla Al Khalifa
** Although this document states Ahmed Makki stayed in prison for eight years, I cannot be sure about Abdul Amir Mansour
*** Also in 1973, iconic Bahraini political figure Muhammed Bunafoor and PFLOAG member died in a suspicion explosion in his house. The authorities alleged he was making a bomb, while others believe it was a plot engineered by the security forces to get rid of Bunafoor – who had been a huge thorn in the regime’s side for years.
**** According to another a British telegram, the rulers were actively trying to turn the religios bloc against the leftists. The British even mentioned how this ‘divide and rule’ was a potentially dangerous tactic. (FCO 8/2180)
***** Interestingly, the home of Abdulla al-Madani’s son, Hassan al-Madani, was gutted in a ‘mystery blaze’ in December 2012. The attack reportedly came after he was threatened following the release of an article he penned for the pro-government Akhbar Al-Khaleej entitled “Don’t hijack the procession and the ma’atam!”. As far as I know, results of the police investigation have not been published.
On 9th December, the Ministry of the Interior announced that they would be launching an investigation into the brutal arrest of a young man in the village of Diraz. This announcement came after a video of the incident was distributed on Twitter and Facebook the day before. The video in question shows police hitting and slapping a young boy who is clearly subdued and under control.
Although continued police brutality (despite the government’s vociferous claims of reform) is hardly surprising, it is odd that the MOI should announce an investigation into the Diraz incident almost 3 months after the video first surfaced. Indeed, video evidence of the incident in question was first uploaded on 20th September.
Not viral? No ‘justice’
So why has it taken 3 months for the MOI to announce an investigation? Was whoever runs the MOI Twitter account absent the day the video was first posted? Given that the original video has about 66,000 hits, you’d think the police would be among those who had seen it (what with it being their job to investigate crime etc). In all fairness, I guess the police are more reluctant to investigate crime when they are the ones carrying it out. Maybe 66,000 hits isn’t enough to warrant an investigation? I mean, a video that showed police beating a man in Bani Jamrah got 86,000 hits, and the MOI described this as a ‘ viral video’. Maybe 80,000 is the cutoff point for defining something as viral/worthy of announcing an investigation into. Usually the MOI respond on Twitter to these ‘viral videos’ pretty soon after they occur. The usual format is to announce an investigation and then to say nothing more about it. Indeed, Fig 1 at the bottom of this post that documents incidents involving police criminality that the MOI have pledged to investigate.
No news is bad news
Despite their eagerness to appear that they are paying attention to issues of police accountability, the MOI are not very good at updating the public as to the status of the investigations. As of yet, details of the names, nationalities and ranks of those policemen under investigation have been obscured. It is, of course, possible that the MOI don’t know who the policemen in question are. Perhaps they are waiting for a leaked copy of the names to go viral on Twitter before making an announcement? The MOI’s reluctance to update the public on the statuses of these investigations is disturbing. After all, how do we know they are really doing any investigating at all? What makes it more frustrating is that the MOI have themselves acknowledged the need to keep the public informed.
The MOI has referred the case to the public prosecutor. The policemen’s first hearing will be on November 21 2012 and the public will be kept informed on the progress of the case.
In addition to the MOI’s refusal to update the public on the statuses of these investigation, it is ridiculous that they only announce investigations into a select number of cases. For example, they announced an investigation into an incident where a policeman was filmed throwing a Molotov cocktail. There are at least 12 videos showing policemen throwing Molotov cocktails, yet the MOI only announced an investigation into one of them. (Given that many happened in 2012, I guess the government didn’t want to make a mockery of the police ‘reforms’). Again, this is just an example. Police have also been filmed throwing steel rods, yet no investigation was announced into this.
Over the past year, there have been countless videos that portray the brutality of Bahrain’s security services. In this regard, social media is providing new opportunities to hold those in power accountable. However, if the Bahraini police investigated every incident of documented police criminality, they would have no time to conduct their security crackdown. It would also look bad if the MOI’s website and Twitter account were peppered with announcements of investigations into police brutality, especially when the government are trying to convince a skeptical world that they are carrying out reform.
As it stands, video evidence of police abuse might at least elicit a response from the MOI. Indeed, at least evidence like this prevents the MOI from becoming judge, jury and executioner in instances of their own misconduct, as was recently the case with Aqeel Mohsen, who was shot in the face by the police after he was in a car that tried to run the police over. Although the MOI’s version of events is possible, lack of video evidence means that their side of the story will undoubtedly go unchallenged.
Why bother with the BS?
The MOI’s announcements of investigations in police criminality are mere attempts to convince the public that they are committed to transparency and accountability. Indeed, if they were truly committed to either of these things, the public might actually be given more information and credible updates about these investigations. What is interesting about this latest announcement is simply the incompetence with which it was executed – a poorly (and I’ll wager hastily) written tweet announcing an investigation into an incident that actually occurred about 3 months ago. Of course the MOI are not known for their communication ability, remember when it took them about four attempts to determine the nationality of someone who was killed by a police patrol car.
Given that no policemen, government officials or members of the security forces appear to be serving prison time for the egregious abuses carried out by the state last year, why should anyone find any truth in the MOI’s vague announcements of investigations into abuses? Even if these investigations exist, they are undoubtedly flawed. Let’s not forget, the MOI failed to hold anyone accountable for 45 civilian deaths last year, itself a testament to the quality of the institution’s investigative abilities.
Fig 1 (for pdf click here> MOItable)
So I have just finished reading the Bahrain government’s follow up report to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report. I was not expecting anything particular newsworthy today, but there I was, choking on my cereal and letting my tea go cold. What follows is a summary of some of the most salient aspects of the report. It is a testament to the government’s lack of sincerity with regards to reform. It illustrates their reluctance to hold people accountable for last year’s abuses, and has no real indicators of impending positive change. Having said that, it’s not all bad news, the report contains photos of mosques and prisons cells, meaning reforms are definitely underway…
Police, Accountability and Justice
The most alarming finding of the follow up report is that 45 death cases were closed ‘ due to lack of evidence of any criminal act’ (para 25). 45 is a colossal number of people, and to have cases closed in so many cases is just ludicrous. Given all this police training, have CID neglected to go to policing 101 – ‘how to solve a murder?’. Oh wait, let’s remember the government cannot, in reality, prosecute so many officers for essentially ensuring the survival of the regime. That just wouldn’t be fair.
Although most of us were angered by the fact no high up officials resigned or were investigated for the ongoing abuses, some took solace in the fact the government appeared to be holding police officers to account for those abuses. However, the government seem incapable of doing even this. In trying to determine how many policemen have been put in prison because of abuses carried out last year, I count, erm, zero? One was given 7 years for murdering Hani Abdel Aziz, the other given 5 years for shooting a Bahraini in the leg. However, the latter is thought to not have served his sentence, which was also reduced to 3 years given the accused’s medical condition. The officer given 7 years is also ‘free pending the outcome of his appeal‘. In an interview with Human Rights Watch published today, head of the BICI team Cherif Bassiouni commented on the case of the policeman accused of shooting Hani Abdel Aziz;
“You can’t say that justice has been done when calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence and the officer who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range only gets seven years,”
The follow up report issued in June also states 3 officers were convicted of assault and battery (para 7). What’s funny about this, is that the latest report documents all deaths reported, but fails to mention that any police personnel have been convicted. Usually the regime are quick to ‘laud’ their commitment to justice, so why have they not mentioned that any police officers have been convicted? Very worrying.
The report provides an extensive table documenting the case of each death, detailing ‘ investigation findings’ and ‘reported on websites’. This section is a blatant exercise in PR, as it provides a summary of the deaths, which is almost always accompanied by a justification of the security forces behavior The authors are careful to state before any implication of wrong doing that the security forces were either ‘ combating a riot’, or ‘ on duty’. They are also careful to state the police ‘were attacked’ – the implication being that anything they did was in self-defense (two cases of security forces accused of killing were actually thrown out on the grounds of self defense. 25) . When they detail the version of the story reported on websites it always a cursory one liner such as ‘fatally shot in the head’. (Because websites are always sensationalist right. FOLLOW THE MOI TWITTER ACCOUNT FOR ACCURATE INFORMATION ON BAHRAIN). See below for an example of the PR-soaked, table of deaths.
Another surprising element about the report is that the government provide one of the highest figures for the number of those killed during and after the unrest. Their figure is 92, whereas IFEX, for example, use a figure of about 80. While the regime’s generosity with figures may be a cynical attempt to illustrate their commitment to transparency, their actual ability to investigate those deaths is extremely distressing. That’s at least 45 families who have absolutely no taste of justice.
Abuse and Torture
Out of 122 cases of mistreatment and torture reported to the authorities, only 11 police personnel were taken to court, the highest ranking of whom was a Lieutenant Colonel. Given the trajectory of previous cases, I imagine they will all be acquitted, perhaps with the removal of doughnut privileges (para 28). With regards to accountability for torture and civilian deaths, Bassiouni said;
“A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly…The public prosecution has yet to investigate over 300 cases of alleged torture, some involving deaths in custody, and there has been no investigation, let alone prosecution, for command responsibility, even at the immediate supervisory level, of people killed in custody as a result of torture.”
Media and Misc
Another salient aspect of the report, and one that reveals the government’s refusal to cede control over their control apparatus is the section on media. Indeed, they say all the right things, and reiterate their commitment to freedom of expression etc, but ultimately the execution will smack of authoritarianism. This is is because ‘ freedom of opinion and expression’ will be regulated by the ‘Supreme Council for Media and Communication’ . This Council concists of 9 members who are appointed by royal order (para 118). That’s right, the King will be appointing the body that is meant to ensure freedom of opinion and expression. Bear in mind 4 people are currently serving a total of up 17 months in jail for insulting the King on Twitter. Even today, the Gulf Daily News announced that there could be a penalty of up to five years for those who insult the King. With regards to media freedom, even POMED’s recent report stated that there was no evidence to suggest that opposition were being granted greater media access.
So there you have it. The Bahrain government has itself issued a report that makes a mockery of its reform claims. That 45 death cases have been dropped is itself enough to make one doubt the integrity of such claims, but the continued lack of justice and accountability, the banning of protests, the revoking of activists’ citizenship, the arrest of ppl for exercising their right to freedom of expression, continued police brutality, the asymmetric application of law, all point to the continuation of authoritarian rule. Even Bassiouni acknowledged the outrageous nature of Bahrain’s legal system, arguing that people whose confessions were extracted through torture were allowed to stand. Bassiouni stated;
“I cannot think of a more egregious and specious legal opinion – admitting that the torture occurred but ruling the confession admissible and allowing the conviction to stand…This constitutes a violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a party.”
The report would arguably be an exercise in PR if it were not so limp. It is, however, quick to laud members of the Al Khalifa family. Victims of last year’s unrest will be delighted to know that both the Youth Creativity Award and the Youth Dialogue Initiative are named after accused torturer Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Lovely.
To conclude, I will cite Amnesty’s report, that was released to coincide with anniversary of the BICI report.
The legacy of the BICI report is fading fast, increasingly overshadowed by ongoing impunity for torture, the jailing of activists, and the ban on all protests. In the face of what increasingly appears to be a defunct reform process, those who have championed Bahrain’s record on reform must be increasingly forced to challenge the charade