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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Note: This page has moved to a new address. Please click on the following URL to get there: http://chanad.weblogs.us/index.php?s=Redressing torture. Sorry for the trouble.

Redressing torture

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Another former detainee said that while he was interrogated at al-Qala'a in 1989, he was subjected to torture two or three times a week for a period of one month:

The interrogators sometimes came for me together, sometimes separately. They would beat me with cables and sticks, and kick my head and back with their heavy military boots. Once I was tied to a chair and my ankle was pierced with a battery-operated drill. Friday nights were the worst - the guards would go out and get drunk and then come back and beat the prisoners.

After his release, he underwent surgery on his spinal cord as a result of his treatment and his body still bears other scars of torture, including cigarette burns and a four-inch knife wound on his hand.

--Amnesty International, Bahrain: Violation of Human Rights, 1991

Tomorrow, representatives of the Bahraini government will go before the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Geneva to present its report about the implementation of policies in Bahrain to satisfy the Convention against Torture. Two separate shadow reports will be presented to the CAT by the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) and the (outlawed) Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) (in co-operation with the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, NCMVT).

After reading the government's submission (pdf, 125KB) it becomes apparent why independent shadow reports are needed to provide a full picture of the situation. The government report is filled with long boring quotes of Bahraini laws, but very little information about if and how these are actually being implemented on the ground. The only interesting bit is the way they try to sell Royal Decree 56 as a good thing (page 8):

16 (a) (iii): In order to make this equality truly meaningful and to turn a new page on the situation that had obtained prior to the amnesty, so that it would not affect the future of the reform movement, the general amnesty erased all the criminal and civil effects arising from the commission of these and related offences and discontinued prosecutions brought in relation thereto prior to the entry into force of the Amnesty Decree. This was spelt out in Legislative Decree No. 56 of 2002, which interprets certain provisions of Legislative Decree No. 10 of 2001, by which the general amnesty for offences against national security was declared (see annexes 3 and 4). It is worth noting, in this connection, that Legislative Decree No. 56 of 2002 provides a legislative interpretation that is based on the Constitution and the law and reflects the actual state of affairs where security and stability have been provided in order to look towards a brighter future in which society will be organized in accordance with the National Action Charter and the implementation of the Kingdom’s programme of reform;

All the Bahraini human rights groups have been campaigning against Law 56, yet the government wants to pull a fast one and portray the law as being in the best interests of society. I dont think the CAT will buy it. This is very similar to when Labour Minister Al-Alawi claimed before the CERD that there is no such thing as discrimination in Bahrain. Indeed, it is a recurring theme for our government to think that it can implement reforms without admitting and reddressing the mistakes of the past. The assumption seems to be that the people will forget... but that is not the case. Personally, I don't think anything less than a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will allow everyone to close this dark chapter of the country's history.

I've had a chance to read a draft of the shadow report being presented to the Committee by the BCHR. Among the points raised are:

  • that criminals of torture (committed prior to 2001) enjoy immunity, due to Law 56
  • that the courts have declined all cases against alleged torturers lodged by victims
  • that there are no specific statutory remedies or rehabilitation for torture victims
  • that no known compensation cases for acts of torture have been successfully pursued in the courts to date.

According to one member of the NCMVT that I spoke to about two months ago, the government did actually privately propose to compensate all the victims for their torture-related medical costs, in return for not pursuing the matter in the courts. He told me that the offer was rejected because they were more concerned about the truth being released, and because they doubted the government's sincerity for certain reasons.

Continue reading this post

It is important to understand the role that torture played in the government's strategy during the dark era of the State Security Law (1975 - 2000). Not only was it used to get false confessions, but it was also used to spread fear and to prevent people from spreading information. Up until just a few years ago, people would not discuss politics in public areas without first looking over their shoulders to make sure that no one else is listening. At the time there was no internet, no blogs, no satellite tv. This was how the government managed to control the flow of information.

So how brutal did the torture have to be achieve its goal? In a 1997 report to the UNHCR (pdf 109KB), the Special Rapporteur described the situation in Bahrain's torture cells:

The methods of torture reported include: falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet); severe beatings, sometimes with hosepipes; suspension of the limbs in contorted positions accompanied by blows to the body; enforced prolonged standing; sleep deprivation; preventing victims from relieving themselves; immersion in water to the point of near drowning; burnings with cigarettes; piercing the skin with a drill; sexual assault, including the insertion of objects into the penis or anus; threats of execution or of harm to family members; and placing detainees suffering from sickle cell anaemia (said to be prevalent in the country) in airconditioned rooms in the winter, which can lead to injury to internal organs.

A fuller picture is created when explained in the victims own words. In a 1997 report by Human Rights Watch:

Hussain, a nineteen year old from Shahraqan, told Human Rights Watch what happened after he after he was brought to Qal'a early one morning:

They took me upstairs to an office, I don't know whose. There they told me to stand on one leg and bray like a donkey. "What am I accused of?" I asked. "Get some manners," the officer said, and he hit me and left. Then someone came in wearing a dishdasha [traditional white shoulder-to-ankle garment worn by men in the Gulf]. I recognized him from photos I had seen: It was Adil Flaifil. He asked me if I was Hussain Shahraqani and I said yes. He had a piece of paper marked "confidential" on top, otherwise blank. He told me to sign it. I refused. They took me to a different room and trussed me up with a pole under my knees. There were four men, two in uniform. They kicked me and took turns hitting me with a hose. After half an hour of this they took me back to Adil Flaifil, who told me again to sign. I refused again. I went back and forth several times between the hanging and beating and the questioning. At one point he [Flaifil] asked for my hand. Two people held my hand, and he burned the back of my hand with his cigarette [displays light scars].

Hussain asserted that his tormentors on this occasion also used electricity to inflict pain. Adil Flaifil, he said, "attached some wires to a piece of metal he was holding against my hand. The shock knocked me to the floor."

"Then they took me into a corridor and put my cuffed hands over the top of a door," Hussain continued:

so I was hanging with my toes just touching the ground. I fell down when they finally let me off the door, and they beat me with a hose again for what seemed like a long time. They saidthey would charge me with bombings and planning attacks with bombs. Later they said I would only have to confess to incitement. I still refused. Finally they said I had to sign a statement that I would not do these things. That I did sign. They gave me one more beating, till my mouth bled, and then they let me go.

You can read many more similar interviews in this 1995 Amnesty International report, and an earlier AI report issued in 1991.

Sadly though, not everyone was fortunate enough to live to tell the story, as there have been several reported cases of detainees who died during the interrogation period. It's not for the faint-hearted but if you can handle it, there are some photos of the corpses displaying injuries allegedly caused by torture at this site (scroll down to the second set of pictures). This case was documented in 1995 AI report:

The second case is that of Sa'id 'Abd al-Rasul al-Iskafi, a 16-year-old secondary school student from al-Sanabes who died ten days (not two days, as initially reported) after his arrest. According to information received by Amnesty International, he had been summoned for interrogation by Mabahith Amn al-Dawla (State Security Intelligence) on 29 June 1995 in connection with his alleged participation in anti-government protests. He was reportedly suspected of having sprayed graffiti on walls near his home. Upon arrival at the headquarters of State Security Intelligence, Sa'id al-Iskafi was taken into custody. On 8 July, his family was told to collect his body from the Military Hospital. According to accounts received, the security forces prevented his family from burying his body in the local cemetery in al-Sanabes, and he was later buried at a cemetery in the nearby district of al-Na'im, where he was born.

It should be quite easy now to understand why the victims of torture and their relatives refuse to give up their campaign for justice. I expect that tomorrow in Geneva the goverment representatives will do their best to dodge the issue of Law 56. But one can hope...

Read my related posts: Repeal 56

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3 Responses to 'Redressing torture'

Anonymous Anonymous says:

Whats your view on the amnesty (Decree 10) that freed the opposition in 2001 - specifically with regard to those involved in political violence?    

Blogger Chanad says:

I think it was a good move to initially release all of the political prisoners, because, it seems, there was no fair judicial procedure that warranted their imprisonment in the first place. You can't imprison people who confessed in torture cells and were sentenced in kangaroo courts.

However, I don't think the problem is solved by issuing a blanket amnesty preventing anyone from ever being tried. The government's torturers should be held responsible, as too should the murderers of the Bangladeshi workers and the killers of the policeman in Nuwaidrat. We need a South Africa style Truth & Reconcilation Commission.

But the government (i.e. ruling family/regime) has an additional responsibility to own up to its crimes. It is hard to identify who exactly was behind the "opposition" violence... but the government torturers committed their crimes while wearing State uniforms. The regime wants to continue holding a position of power in the country, and so it must show the people that it has cleansed itself of its past crimes. Admitting wrongdoing is the first step for the regime towards achieving a sense of trust with the people.

And I think the most important thing is for the truth to be revealed and for all sides to admit to their mistakes. Personally, I'm not that concerned about the criminals actually being punished, but I can understand why the victims would want to press it further.

So to answer your question in short: the release was good. The blanket amnesty is not.    

Anonymous Mahmood Al-Yousif says:

I agree with Decree 10, it was much needed to clear the air for the impending democratic experiment, however, there was absolutely no reason for Law 56 which explained Decree 10 and gave imunity to torturers.

Instead of 56, the King should have set up a Truth and Reconcilliation Commission to really clear the air and move on.

Sadly, that was not the case.    

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