Torture in Bahrain

I would appreciate it if MERIP could publish the enclosed communication. The events which have taken place this summer, particularly in Kuwait and Bahrain, have shown how mistaken was my optimistic projection (“Labor Movements in Bahrain” MER 132). Until the dissolution of the Kuwaiti parliament in July and the subsequent curtailment of the Kuwaiti opposition’s activities, developments in Bahrain were hopeful. The government now seems to have opted to crack down on “extreme opposition forces,” rather than yield to the modest demands by the business community for political and economic reforms. The general mood, as reflected in the communist and Islamic underground leaflets in Bahrain, is rather gloomy. Both underground organizations have issued calls for avenging recent deaths in custody.

I sincerely hope that there is a way in which your readers can help to alleviate the burden of the political prisoners and detainees in Bahrain.

‘Abd al-Hadi Khalaf

Since the end of July this year the government of Bahrain has implemented a security operation which opposition groups describe as “a terror campaign.” Some 100 persons have been detained; many of them were reportedly tortured. The arrests, mainly among members and sympathizers of the Bahrain National Liberation Front (BNLF) have included men and women of various backgrounds, ages and professions. Most of the detainees, particularly young girls, were subsequently released. Each of those released had to deposit a sum of 500 Bahraini Dinars (US $1,800) with the Ministry of Interior against good behavior for an unspecified period.

Some 40 people remain in custody. The government is not obliged to specify charges or allow persons accused of “state security offenses” to have access to lawyers and relatives during their detention. Arrest, detention and interrogation of political opposition activists is the responsibility of the Security and Intelligence Services (SIS). The SIS enjoys unlimited powers by virtue of the State Security Decree of 1974, which empowers the Minister of Interior to arrest and detain suspects for up to three years. Some leading opposition and trade union activists have been held in custody without charges for more than five years. The State Security Decree cites as punishable crimes a long list of what would be normal citizen’s rights in a democratic society. The list includes: “committing by deed or speech, or undertaking an activity or contacts in the country or abroad, which may be considered endangering the country’s internal or external security; or the state’s religious and national interests; or its basic, or social or economic system; or may be considered sedition that affect or may affect the prevailing relation between the people and the government, or between various institutions, or among people employed in institutions or companies; or may be considered facilitating the undertaking of acts of sabotage or subversive propaganda, or dissemination of atheistic principles…”

The SIS has been run since 1968 by a British officer, Col. Ian Henderson. Most of his senior staff are British, Jordanian and Pakistani officers, seconded by their governments. The SIS also enjoys an unlimited mandate in surveillance, intelligence gathering, censorship and disinformation. It claims a considerable share of the $287 million allocated to the “defense and internal security expenditures” in 1983 — over 20 percent of government expenditures for that year.

Several deaths have occurred as a result of the SIS interrogation techniques. The most recent are those of Radhi Mahdi Ibrahim and Dr. Hashim al-Alawi.

Radhi Mahdi Ibrahim was arrested in December 1980 for allegedly taking part in planning a coup that month. He and his 72 co-defendants claimed during their trial that they were tortured and forced to sign statements prepared by the SIS. Instead of an independent medical examination as requested by the defense lawyers, the court appointed doctors employed by the ministry of the interior. Their findings did not mention any evidence of physical torture.

The 73 accused, including Mr. Ibrahim, were sentenced in 1981 to prison terms ranging from seven years to life. They were put in specially constructed two-man cells in a secluded part of the Jaw Prison and Police Camp. They have been denied the customary rights — one hour of daily exercise; a monthly visit by relatives; letters and food gifts; socializing with other prisoners. There are reports of periodic solitary confinement as well as physical ill-treatment.

The government of Bahrain has repeatedly denied these allegations, while continuing to deny the aggrieved families the right to visit their imprisoned sons. The death of Radhi Mahdi Ibrahim on August 30, 1986, provided alarming evidence of the harsh treatment of political convicts in Bahrain. The remaining 72 of the same group, protesting the death of their comrade, were told by a prison officer that “they, too, will face the slow death.”

Dr. Hashim al-Alawiwas arrested at the end of August 1986 in a general SIS sweep of the underground opposition. The government did not issue an official explanation for any of the arrests. None of the arrested was charged or allowed access to a lawyer.

Reports of severe physical torture, circulated by the underground press, were soon confirmed by the hospitalization of some detainees, including Dr. al-Alawi. Torture, it seems, continued after they were moved back to SIS cells in the al-Qala‘a Prison.

Dr. al-Alawi died in custody on October 16, 1986. One of his brothers was called by the SIS men two nights later to attend his burial. The delay seems to have been caused by the SIS’ desire to suppress the news of his death while the Shi‘a community was holding its Ashura rites, a period normally charged with sectarian tensions and anti-government feelings. The al-Alawi family was sternly warned not to hold any public mourning for their son. Friends and comrades of Dr. Alawi held a vigil on October 20, 1986, opposite the government house and marched next day to the Shi'a graveyard in Manama.

The continued repressive measures of the Bahraini government have prompted the intervention of several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International (London), the Arab Organization for Human Rights (Cairo and Geneva), the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (Brussels), and the International Commission of Jurists (Geneva).

More outside pressure is needed. We request that persons outside:

  • Urge Bahraini authorities to agree to an independent inquest into the recent deaths in custody, and seek assurances that the results will be made public and that those responsible will be brought to justice.
  • Urge Bahraini authorities to end incommunicado detention, and permit all political detainees to challenge their detention before an impartial judicial authority in order to minimize the risk of torture.
  • Seek assurances that all political detainees have access to a lawyer of their choice, to relatives, and to a medical doctor when necessary.
  • Urge the Bahraini government to ratify international human rights instruments outlawing torture.

Statements by groups and organizations are very important. Messages to Bahraini authorities are also useful signs of support for the victims of repression in our part of the world. Manama, Bahrain is sufficient address for messages directed to the Prime Minister, the Crown Prince, Minister of Interior, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and/or the Council of Ministers. Please help if you can.

In Memoriam

We were grieved to learn recently from friends in Germany of the death of Alexander Schölch. Alexander was a fine young scholar who published two excellent books in English, on Egyptian and Palestinian nationalism. His sudden death from a heart attack this past August is a great loss to his family, his friends and colleagues, and all of us who had the good fortune to know and work with him.

How to cite this article:

"Letters (November/December 1986)," Middle East Report 143 (November/December 1986).

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