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The State of National Safety
Since 15 March Bahrain has been under a State of National Safety. This was initially imposed for three months but it may be prolonged with the approval of the National Council. Using its powers under the SNS, the government imposed a curfew in certain areas, initially from 4pm until 4am but now reduced to apply during the hours from 11 pm to 4am. The provisions of the SNS are broadly drawn and vague, and it contains no explicit human rights guarantees. It equips the armed and security forces with sweeping powers, which allow them to ban all public gatherings that are deemed harmful to national security; to prohibit individuals from travelling outside Bahrain if this is held to be in the public interest; and to conduct searches of places and people suspected of transgressing the SNS provisions; to summarily deport foreign nationals considered to pose a threat to national security. The SNS also allows the authorities to close down NGOs, trade unions, social clubs and political associations if they are deemed to have carried out activities considered harmful to national security, including “collaborating” with a foreign state. Further, any publication or broadcast containing information harmful to national security or that questions the political, economic and social systems of Bahrain are to be seized or confiscated.
In addition to these powers, the SNS provides that the armed and security forces may arrest anyone deemed to pose a threat to national security and to strip any Bahraini deemed to pose such threat of their Bahraini nationality and detain or expel them from the country. The SNS established a special court and appeal court – the National Safety Court of First Instance and the National Safety Appeal Court - to try people accused of transgressing the law; the courts are to conduct their procedures in accordance with the provisions contained in Bahraini statute law in relation to investigation, evidence, the conduct of court proceedings and the announcement of verdicts but there is nothing said about human rights safeguards for detainees held under the SNS, including how long they can be detained in pre-trial detention. The final verdicts of these special courts cannot be appealed against in Bahrain’s ordinary courts.
Torture and other ill-treatment and deaths in custody
Torture and other ill-treatment and deaths in custody
The renewed crackdown and arrests of opposition activists has been accompanied by an alarming increase in reports of torture and other ill-treatment of people detained in connection with the protests. Methods of torture have included punching with fists, kicking with boots, beatings with wooden batons and in some cases, the use of electric shocks were applied. Hamid Sayyid (real name withheld), a 31-year-old man from a Shi’a village who was detained at the Salmaniya Medical Complex at the end of March, after his release told Amnesty International:
“… 10 people dressed in police and army clothes entered the nursing room while I was alone in the room and beat and kicked me. Immediately after they took me to the police station in the …. village without explaining why they were taking me. Once there they put me in the middle of a room, blindfolded, and several men, I don't know how many, beat me and applied electric shocks on both legs. It hurt so much that after they applied the first shock I fell on the floor because I could not feel my legs. Once on the floor they beat me and kicked me on my head and body. They beat me so hard that I still cannot see from one of my eyes now. They pulled me and repeated the same procedure [electric shock on the leg] two more times. While they were beating me, they insulted me. They told me to confess that the medical workers were hiding weapons in the ambulances and that I took weapons and hid them in the ceiling of the hospital. I said I did not know anything and they kept on beating me. They continued for 30 minutes. They left me on the floor, after maybe 30 minutes a police officer came back and told me that if anyone asked me about the marks I had to say I fell down. Another police officer, higher rank, came in the room, saw me on the floor and I heard him asking the others what had happened and what was all that blood; I heard the others saying they did not know. He took me to a room, gave me water and asked me how many times I had been in the roundabout, I remained silent. Then he let me go and told me not to say I was beaten….”
At least four detainees are known to have died in custody in suspicious circumstances. Hassan Jassem Mohammad Mekki, aged 39, a married man with children from Karzakan, was arrested from his house in the early hours of 28 March. He was initially held in a police station in Hamad Town then transferred to the CID on 29 March. On 3 April the CID contacted his family and asked them to go the Salmaniya Medical Complex. Two of his brothers and his father did so and when they arrived military officers took them to the morgue. They uncovered the head of deceased person lying there and asked the family if they could confirm that the body was that of Hassan. The father and Hassan’s two brothers were in a state of shock but confirmed that it was Hassan. The father was then made to sign a death certificate; it was dated 3 April and gives the cause of death as “heart failure”. No autopsy is known to have been conducted by the authorities in order to arrive at this determination of the cause of death. The body was then taken to the family home in Karzakan for burial; when it was fully uncovered to be washed prior to burial the family reportedly saw marks of beatings and bruises on the neck, legs and the head. However, they are said not to have asked the authorities about these injuries and how they were sustained not to have submitted any complaint for fear of possible repercussions by the security forces.
‘Abdel-Karim al-Fakhrawi, a 49-year-old businessman and member of al-Wefaq, the largest Shi’a political association, died in police custody on 12 April. According to reports, his body bore marks of torture but the authorities have attributed his death to kidney failure.
‘Ali ‘Issa Ibrahim al-Saqer was reported to have died in custody by the Ministry if Interior on 9 April. He had been arrested six days earlier in Hamad Town after he reportedly went to a police station after being summoned to appear in connection with investigations into the killing of a police officer during the March protests. The Ministry said ‘Ali ‘Issa Ibrahim al-Saqer had died in custody while being restrained by police. His body, when returned to his family for burial, is said to have had visible marks suggesting that he may have been tortured. No autopsy or formal investigation into his death is known to have been held to date.
The Interior Ministry also announced the death in custody of a fourth detainee, Zakaraya Rasheed Hassan al-‘Asheri, on 9 April. He was said to have been arrested from his home in al-Dair on 2 April. The Ministry attributed his death to ill-health but in his case too at burial his body is reported to have borne marks indicating that he may have been tortured.
Torture and ill-treatment are prohibited in international human rights treaties such as the UN Convention against Torture, also ratified by Bahrain, and the ICCPR. Bahraini legislation too bans the use of torture. Amnesty International is calling on the Bahraini government to immediately establish an independent and impartial investigation into the deaths in custody that have occurred and into all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, and to being to justice any members of the military and security forces or other officials, however senior, who are responsible for torture or other abuse of detainees.