Bahrain exercises one of the worst torture practices in the Gulf against citizens who oppose its policies. In February 2011, the Bahraini uprising revealed how the government was indifferent to the principles of human rights and international law, in its confrontation with citizens’ exercise of their right to demonstrate, express and demand democratic, economic and social reform in the country.
On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Muwatin shed light on patterns of torture in the Kingdom of Bahrain, based on testimonies of activists who have faced various forms of torture in Bahraini prisons over the past ten years.
The nature of the violations committed by the authorities varies between the deprivation of nationality, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, the use of violence against protesters, the implementation of death sentences against opposition members and the practice of various forms of torture on detainees in prisons.
With more than 5000 prisoners, Bahrain has one of the highest numbers of political prisoners in the Gulf. The treatment in the prisons can be described as the worst in the Gulf.
Many documented cases of torture in Bahraini prisons confirm the torture methods used to silence dissent.
The Bahraini Uprising
With the escalation of the events of the Arab Spring that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Oman and Yemen, Bahrain witnessed the largest protests in the Gulf region.
The 14th of February 2011, marked the start of the protests demanding democracy and reform of the political system in the country. The movement continued for weeks, during which nearly a third of the Bahraini population came out to participate.
Security forces confronted the protests with violence. The crackdown on demonstrators resulted in the death of seven people, while hundreds of detainees were held in prisons in the first three weeks of the protests.
On the 14th of March 2011, the Peninsula Shield Force, which consisted of Saudi and Emirati military forces, entered Bahrain after the government requested assistance to disperse the sit-in at the Pearl Roundabout and suppress the protests.
By the 18th of March 2011, the government had managed to eliminate the sit-in at the Pearl Roundabout by using excessive force against the demonstrators and carrying out massive arbitrary arrest campaigns.
During this period and the years that followed, Bahrain witnessed systematic torture against opposition members, human rights activists and civilians.
Victims of torture
Mohammed Sultan, a young man participating in the protests, is one of the victims tortured at the hands of the security forces.
In March 2011, Sultan was taken to the Criminal Investigation Department after his house was raided by masked officers, who pointed their guns at him and his family and threatened to kill them.
Sultan was severely beaten while blindfolded and was asked to confess. But as he says, he did not know what they wanted him to confess. The torture lasted for days and long periods where Sultan would often lose consciousness. He eventually signed a confession and other documents despite not knowing what they entailed.
One night in prison, Sultan recalls the killing of a detainee who was being tortured. The latter’s mouth was stuffed with newspapers until he suffocated and died.
on the 26th of May 2017, Ibtisam Al-Sayegh, a Bahraini human rights activist, was summoned by the National Security Agency after she participated in the United Nations Human Rights Council session in March 2017. She was called to the Muharraq Security Centre in the north of the country. Al-Sayegh was tortured, verbally abused, and sexually assaulted by the interrogators. They also threatened her with rape if she continued with her human rights activism.
At 11 pm, she was released, and taken directly to the hospital.
The conditions in Bahraini prisons are deplorable. In addition to willful neglect, torture and ill-treatment, prisons are overcrowded. The situation has been worsening over the past two years, especially with the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.
Jau Central Prison, in the south of the country, has a maximum capacity of 1,200 prisoners, while it hosts three times that number. Similar situations are present in other prisons.
Medical negligence and overcrowding led to prison protests and, in some instances, riots. Authorities confronted the protests with excessive violence in early April 2021.
On the 9th of June 2021, the death of prisoner of conscience, Hussein Barakat, was announced after he contracted the coronavirus. His wife reported that Barakat called her, asking her to call on people to take him to the hospital. The authorities did not allow her to see her husband, and only took him to the prison clinic.
Hussein Barakat was one of the prisoners in the overcrowded Jau prison, where the authorities claim to have vaccinated every person who requested the vaccine. It is noteworthy that Barakat received the prison vaccine before he died, but was denied being taken to the hospital after contracting the virus.