The Government of Bahrain has targeted numerous internationally renowned human rights defenders in reprisal for their work. Many, including Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, are known around the world, with their cases documented by human rights organizations, governments, and the United Nations. However, the Bahraini government’s attack on peaceful dissent and opposition has cast a wide net, capturing scores of “ordinary people” whose names are rarely, if ever, shared widely. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) is launching the new series Profiles in Persecution in the hope of changing that. In each installment, the series will profile a different Bahraini citizen and tell their story, revealing some of the countless men and women who have found themselves targeted, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned by their government in response for their activism or political beliefs.
The overarching aim of Profiles in Persecution is to illustrate the true breadth of human rights violations committed in Bahrain. Though the government undoubtedly targets the country’s high-profile activists, Bahraini authorities also regularly punish ordinary people for deciding to speak their minds. Profiles in Persecution will call attention to the scores of Bahraini citizens attempting to peacefully challenge repression and to secure their basic human rights – often at great risk.
ADHRB additionally hopes that this series will encourage readers to see themselves in the stories and lives of ordinary Bahrainis who have sought to peacefully bring about change in their country. The more that others are exposed to accounts of the Bahraini torture survivors and prisoners of conscience, the harder it will be for Bahrain’s key international allies to ignore such behavior. In this way, Profiles in Persecution seeks also to promote solidarity and urge the international community to hold the Bahraini authorities accountable for the severe human rights violations they continue to perpetrate.
Ali Jasim al-Ghanemi
Ali Jasim Al-Ghanemi is a 31-year-old Bahraini and a former police officer. He was still serving in the Bahraini police forces at the time of the peaceful mass pro-democracy movements that took place in the country in early 2011. On 17 February 2011, Al-Ghanemi left his post and joined in these demonstrations after witnessing government forces storm the protest encampment at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, killing and injuring a number of peaceful protesters. Al-Ghanemi continued to participate in the pro-democracy demonstrations through March 2011, but he went into hiding after the Bahraini government quelled the uprising with the help of security forces from surrounding Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.
After he went into hiding, Bahraini security forces raided al-Ghanemi’s family home several times in search of him. Eventually, on 4 May 2011, a force of approximately 200 police officers raided the building in the northwestern Bahraini village of Bani Jamra in which al-Ghanemi was taking shelter. Despite failing to present either a search warrant or an arrest warrant, Bahraini police proceeded to detain al-Ghanemi. After his initial arrest, Bahraini authorities transferred al-Ghanemi between several detention facilities. The government officials failed to provide al-Ganemi’s family with any information about his whereabouts or his condition for several months after his arrest. Bahraini authorities also repeatedly subjected al-Ghanemi to torture and ill-treatment during the period of his pretrial detention, including shackling his wrists and legs, periodically interrogating and beating him, stepping on his food, and insulting al-Ghanemi’s Shia religious faith.
In January 2012, a military court in Bahrain convicted al-Ghanemi on charges that included “illegal assembly,” inciting “antipathy and contempt for the ruling system,” and “spread[ing] inflammatory propaganda.” The court sentenced al-Ghanemi to twelve-and-a-half years in prison, and Bahraini authorities transferred him to Jau Prison shortly after the verdict.
Since arriving at Jau, Bahraini authorities have continued to subject al-Ghanemi to torture and ill-treatment. Prison officials have subjected al-Ghanemi and other inmates to ill-treatment during periods of arbitrary and collective punishments. In March 2015, police put down a riot led by some prisoners at the facility. Despite not participating in the uprising, prison authorities targeted al-Ghanemi in the event’s aftermath, storming his cell and striking him in the head with a baton before dragging him into the prison yard and continuing to beat him there. The next day, security forces again subjected al-Ghanemi to similar treatment. At one point, al-Ghanemi was transferred to Jau Prison’s medical clinic, where the prison medics participated in beating him further.
In late February 2017, guards at Jau Prison again targeted the facility’s inmates in a campaign of arbitrary and collective punishments after a police bus was bombed on the outskirts of a village near the prison. Following the bombing, al-Ghanemi was among those subjected to such punishment. Prison guards beat al-Ghanemi, placed him in solitary confinement, and shackled him to the walls in such a way as to force him to stand for long periods of time. The combination of violent beatings, extremely tight shackling, and forced standing caused veins in al-Ghanemi’s legs to rupture, resulting in profuse bleeding. At other points throughout his imprisonment, al-Ghanemi has also reported that prison officials have subjected him to sleep deprivation, denial of permission to pray, denial of access to bathing facilities and hygienic items, denial of access to toilets and restricted access to toilets, and being forced to witness or listen to the torture of other prisoners.
In April 2017, international observers were permitted to see al-Ghanemi, after which his condition appears to have marginally improved, albeit briefly. He was allowed to see a doctor, but this visit has not resulted in any sustained medical treatment. Instead, despite suffering from pain in his teeth, stomach, and knees in the aftermath of his most recent round of torture, Bahraini authorities continue to deny him access to any medication, including painkillers.
The Bahraini government’s treatment of Ali Jasim al-Ghanemi is demonstrative of the ways in which it responds to anyone in the country that engages in peaceful forms of government criticism and opposition. Indeed, in its recently-issued concluding observations regarding Bahrain’s compliance with international anti-torture obligations, the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) noted the Government of Bahrain has a record of imprisoning activists, human rights defenders, journalists, political opposition figures, and anyone else who engages in peaceful forms of dissent. The CAT also observed that allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of Bahraini authorities remain “numerous and consistent…[and] widespread.” In addition, Bahraini prison authorities have repeatedly failed to provide inmates at Jau with adequate medical treatment.
As the Bahraini government continues to become more and more brazen in its repressive tactics, ordinary and often unnamed Bahrainis will continue to suffer for attempting to exercise the rights that others around the world may take for granted. International governments, organizations, and individuals can help change this by making the names and stories of Bahrainis who have suffered human rights violations known. The international community should call on the Government of Bahrain to engage in a productive national dialogue and institute meaningful reforms.