Bahrain: continuation of harsh charges against Human Rights and Pro-Democracy Activists

Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti Violence Organization (BRAVO) expresses its doubts with regards to the resolve of the Bahraini Government to overcome the negative impact of the harsh judgments from the Military Courts against pro-democracy and human rights activists since February and March 2011.

On Sunday July 1, 2012 the Supreme Criminal Court held the first case appeal hearing of three young Bahraini men. The High Criminal Court in Bahrain ruled against them on May 27, 2012 and has sentenced imprisonment against five Bahraini citizens accused of what is referred to as the Terrorist Cell. Those accused were arrested in Qatar and transferred to Bahrain where they were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, only two of the defendants were found not guilty.

Previously, the Ministry of Interior in Bahrain (MOI) declared what they described as “a cell that was planning for terrorist armed attacks against personnel and vital installation”. The MOI spokesman, Director of Public Security, Major General Tariq Alhassan stated in a press conference (12 Nov 2011) at the Officers Club in Qudiabia that “the investigations had shown that the accused were targeting King Fahad Causeway, the building of MOI and the Saudi Embassy in Bahrain and personnel”. The MOI stated that “Qatari authorities arrested 4 Bahrainis and found documents, papers and a laptop in their car. These were said to contain important security information and details of vital installations, airline tickets to Syria and an amount of money in US Dollars and Iranian Toman”. 

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The particulars go back to last September 2011 when the four defendants: Emad Yaseen, Mohammed Sahwan, Ali Abbas and Isa Shamloh went to Qatar. Emad and Mohammed knew each other previously but they had no prior relationship with Ali and Isa. However, because Ali and Isa work in Transport, they offered to drive Emad and Mohamed to Qatar.

Emad Yaseen is a political activist and was wanted for arrest. Mohammed Sahwan had already been injured with 40 bird-shot pellets in his head. Mohammed feared to go to the hospital as he would most likely be arrested. Emad decided to take Mohammed to Qatar for medical treatment. They crossed the Saudi border without stamping their passports – as they were wanted men. As they reached Qatar and were finalizing their entry a Qatari Customs Officer ordered an inspection of their laptops. They found hundreds of photos and numerous reports about the human rights violations and crimes that had happened in Bahrain. These were found on Emad’s laptop.

The Qatari Customs Officer directly contacted the Qatari National Security Apparatus (Intelligence) and after interrogation of the men, they were promised that they would  be released as soon as the Intelligence received some clarification regarding the material that was found on their two laptops.

Suddenly a twist happened, the situation dramatically changed and their treatment was completely altered. The four defendants were threatened and separated into solitary confinement of 2.5 m2. Activist Emad was threatened that he must confess about all his political relations and his connections with the Bahraini opposition otherwise he would be kept in detention. He was also threatened to be killed. They insisted to know where Emad was taking the reports to.

The four were kept incommunicado, solitary detention and deprived of contact with or meeting any person for a period of approximately one month, with continuous interrogations and physiological pressure. Emad was interrogated in a peculiar black room, restrained to a chair that was fixed to the floor chair and with a flash and camera directed on his face.

The Qatari Intelligence persistently tortured them by means of psychological and physical mistreatment. That included extensive continuous interrogations, the solitary confinement and complete isolation (incommunicado detention) from the outside world. During the entire period the activist Emad refused to give any information. Consequently Qatari authorities decided to deport them and passed the four defendants over to the Bahrain authorities.

Bahraini National Security Apparatus (NSA) received the four defendants on 4th Nov 2011. They were instantly abused once they arrived at Bahrain Airport. They were beaten in the airport, blindfolded and pushed into security vehicles and were transported directly to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) building in Adlyia.

The Qatari Authorities provided the Bahraini Authorities with all of the information gathered from the laptop of the activist Emad. Hence, the spectacle of a Terrorist Cell was instantly fabricated. Hugely fictitious charges were pushed against activist Emad and the other three men. It was considered as revenge for his Human Rights activities and the presence of critical Human Rights Reports that condemned the Bahrain Regime.

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Isa Almajali –A Jordanian officer  – was responsible for the interrogation of the four – he took them and re-interrogated them. Sheikh Ali Almostrarshid (A Shia Cleric) was then added by Isa Almajali to the group. They were all accused of the Terrorist Cell without any valid basis. 

The main accused in this case are Abdulraoof Alshayb (outside Bahrain), Ali Almoshaima (outside Bahrain), Ahmed Mohammed Salih (in hiding), Emad Yaseen, Mohammed Sahwan, Ali Almostarshid. The drivers, Ali Mobarak and Isa Shamloh were found innocent.

However, the witness who was listened to by the High Criminal Court on 11th March 2012 declared that no weapons or any explosives were found with the four convicted “members of the cell”. He said that four of the seven accused were brought by him from Qatar based on an order directly from the Bahraini Authorities. He received them without arrest warrants, or interrogation paperwork. Additionally he did not file any inference forms before arresting them and he depended on their confessions when pressing charges against them. The court has accepted this, although it is proven that the men were subjected to torture to force confessions.

Separately a witness told the court that he saw the detainee Emad limping and with marks of bruising when he was at Dry Dock, during the time that they were detained together, around the time of interrogation.

The MOI statements included many contradictions. It claimed that amounts of Iranian Toman (Iranian currency) were found with the four accused, however it did not provide information as to where the four obtained these Toman; taking into consideration that they arrived in Qatar from Bahrain and crossed Saudi Arabia. And as the MOI claimed they were heading to Syria. 

The MOI claimed that the defendants were intending to blow up the Saudi Embassy in Manama and were travelling with Iranian Toman to Qatar. It is illogical that the defendants aimed to blow up the Saudi Embassy in Manama but were traveling with documents and Toman as well as Maps to Saudi Arabia and then to Qatar and from there to Syria.

The Security found pictures of Emad standing under the North Bridge Muharraq (Governorate – Bahrain), which is similar in its design to King Fahad Causeway. These pictures were used to claim that he and his friend “Sahwan” had intended to blow up King Fahad Causeway.  The court had gone along with the Security Officers claims that they were in a terrorist organization despite the fact that the investigating officer Fawaz Al-Emadi, joined AlMajali in the torture of detainees and the extraction of confessions and had declared in front of the court that they did not have any means to blow up any facility or the assassination of any person. The fact is that everything they had said amounted to no more than thoughts. This means that the court has sentenced the defendants for 15 years imprisonment based upon their ‘thoughts’. This kind of offence has been rejected by the Court of Cassation in other cases similar to what happened in the trial of the political figures who won appeals and their cases were sent back for retrial.

The lawyers of defendants have requested the court to suspend the trial in front of the Criminal Higher Court until an investigation is made against the claims of the torture alleged by defendants but the Court which is headed by a member of the Al Khalifa royal family has rejected the request.

The lawyers have stated that some of the defendants were tortured, declaring that “it is unfortunate that the torture continues regardless the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) which condemned the torture in prisons”. As the lawyers told France Press Agency that the defendants chanted “victory is soon” after they heard their verdicts.

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The consequence of repetitive talk surrounding so-called terrorist cells has gone beyond reasonable limit. This has no connection to the daily mass popular peaceful movement taking place in the streets.

Nevertheless, this is not the first time that the Bahraini Authorities have declared that they were arresting terrorist cells. During the past two years, Bahrain made announcements about four cells,

One in 2009, which they said had its members trained in Syria,

the Second was before the Revolution in 14 of February, accompanied by media and diagram of a terror plot which included the organizational structure of the cell.

the Third group detained now for the establishment of a cell to overthrow the regime during the revolution of 14 of February last year.

Finally the fourth is an alleged terrorist cell accused of plotting attacks against Bahrain, which was uncovered by neighboring Qatar. The new element about the last charge is the involvement of Qatar and the direct accusation of Iran, amid the escalation of both files in Syrian and Iran.

One of the most considerable thing to worry about is that the trial of the accused was in accordance with the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2006, a law that has raised its issue and is widely criticized by local and international human rights organizations, where it is tainted by several disadvantages, including that the law has contained several articles which have nothing to do with terrorism and does not adhere to international law.

By these allegations the Bahraini Government has proven that they still choose the security solution. The authority used in each episode makes claims against the Political and Human Rights Activist in order to keep them in prison. Most of these accusations, campaigns and cases have been suspended before on many occasions, or have been ceased and the defendants released. That is except for the charges that were against the Political and Human Rights Activists that occurred during the last year and during the National Safety period. Whereas the defendants in most of these cases are still behind bars, which gives an indication that they will stay imprisoned until a National Dialogue, solution or resolve for the case of Bahrain is found.

Based on the above, Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti Violence Organization BRAVO calls on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Be aware that these trials and harsh judgments will not result in anything but more tension in all aspects. Bahrain has witnessed the emergence of increased numbers of Activists in reflection to the court sending individuals for imprisonment based on corrupt findings, which in turn is compounding the situation.
  • End these trials and charges against Politicians and Human Rights Activists and acknowledge accountability for all those persons responsible for their torture.
  • Guarantee the protection of all activists who participated in the uprisings of Feb 2011.
  • Guarantee in all circumstances that all detainees have the right to a fair trial.

BRAVO respectfully reminds the Bahraini Authorities that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 5 (b) which states that: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups;” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”