21 May 2018 – The Court of Cassation, Bahrain’s highest court, today confirmed the sentences against twelve men convicted for alleged terror offenses in an unfair trial marred by reports of torture and other due process violations. Two of the individuals were sentenced to death and are now at imminent risk of execution. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) condemns the court’s decision to uphold these death penalties despite evidence of serious human rights abuses and calls on the Bahraini government to immediately annul the sentences pending investigation.

The 13 defendants were first tried in 2017 on terror charges linked to an alleged attack on security forces in 2016. On 5 June 2017, the fourth High Criminal Court sentenced two defendants to death; three to life in prison; three to ten years; one to seven years, one to five years; two to three years; and acquitted one. Nine were also stripped of their Bahraini citizenship, and seven received fines. Two of the defendants are not in government custody and were tried in absentia. The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling on 27 February 2018, and the Court of Cassation confirmed the decision on 21 May 2018. For the two men sentenced to death, the final step before execution is ratification of their sentence by the king, which could occur without notice to the individuals or their families. They have exhausted all domestic remedies and could be executed at any time. There are now four individuals at imminent risk of execution in Bahrain, and at least 13 more on death row.

ADHRB has received credible reports that Bahraini authorities subjected the two individuals sentenced to death to severe human rights violations. Both individuals state that they were arrested without warrants by the agents of the National Security Agency (NSA) – Bahrain’s primary intelligence body – and tortured by officers at the Ministry of Interior (MOI)’s Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) to coerce a confession. Both individuals were also arrested on charges of “unlawful assembly,” in blatant violation of the right to freedom of assembly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). ADHRB has received additional reports that the detainees were unable to meet with their legal counsel during their trial, and were denied access to healthcare during their detention.

Notably, the king reinstated the NSA’s powers of arrest in 2017 after they were initially removed following the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which found that the NSA was responsible for widespread arbitrary detention and torture, as well as extrajudicial killing, in 2011. Since the king’s decision, the NSA has resumed its abusive practices, launching a reprisal campaign against political activists and human rights defenders.

“Torture, forced confessions, no lawyer – any independent court would have thrown this case out and launched an investigation into such serious allegations of abuse. But in Bahrain you get two more death sentences and nine more citizens stripped of their nationality,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s Executive Director. “The secret police of the NSA are back to their old, brutal tricks and the courts are enabling them, effectively giving extrajudicial killings a cheap veneer of legality. The international community has to step in before more torture survivors are put before the firing squad.”

Bahrain’s actions in this trial have violated a number of international norms and obligations, including those found in the UDHR, the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The warrantless arrests and the charges of “illegal assembly” are in violation of Article 20 of the UDHR and Article 21 of the ICCPR. The use of confessions obtained through torture is in violation of Article 15 of the CAT and the fair trial rights enshrined in Article 14 of the ICCPR. The defendants’ inability to meet with their legal counsel during detention is also in violation of these rights, rendering their detention arbitrary under Article 9 of the UDHR and ICCPR. Further, the denial of access to healthcare is in violation of the Article 12 right to health in the ICESCR. For all these reasons, their execution would also be a violation of the right to life in Article 3 of the UDHR and Article 6 of the ICCPR.

ADHRB calls on the Government of Bahrain to uphold its human rights obligations by vacating these sentences and ensuring that any future trial be conducted according to international standards. We further call on the government to revoke the NSA’s arrest authority, institute an immediate moratorium on the death penalty with an ultimate view toward abolition, and hold all officials accountable for their role in human rights abuses.

Editor’s Note: ADHRB previously reported that there are five individuals at imminent risk of execution, when there are in fact four.