On 18 September 2017, a Bahraini court postponed yet another hearing for professor and engineer Khalil al-Halwachi. Al-Halwachi, a former opposition activist, is currently appealing a ten-year sentence for allegedly possessing a weapon, which he maintains was falsely planted by security forces. According to Fatima al-Halwachi, Khalil’s daughter and the Deputy Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights, the appeal hearing for her father and several codefendants was again postponed after the court failed to merge relevant case documents. Although Khalil al-Halwachi was initially arrested on 3 September 2014, he was not officially sentenced in the case until 23 March 2017, after more than 20 postponements.
After police raided al-Halwachi’s home and arrested him without presenting a warrant in 2014, they took him to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), a division of the Ministry of Interior deeply implicated in cases of torture and ill treatment. During this interrogation, al-Halwachi reports that he was tortured into giving a false confession, a practice that ADHRB has regularly documented in the kingdom. The authorities charged him with “possession of a weapon,” an offense al-Halwachi denies, stating that security forces placed a rifle in his home during the raid. He received another charge of “insulting the judiciary” after he raised these abuses and other due process violations in court. Since his arrest and interrogation, al-Halwachi has been held at Dry Dock Detention Center and then Jau Prison.
Extended arbitrary detentions, facilitated by the serial postponement of court cases, appear to be on the rise in Bahrain. For example, one of the cases against leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was recently postponed again on 11 September 2017. In July, Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison in a separate case that was also repeatedly postponed, and he faces a total term of up to seventeen years if convicted of all the charges against him. Likewise, al-Halwachi’s original trial was postponed over twenty times, and he now faces a similar slog through the appeals process.
Jau Prison, where al-Halwachi is currently serving his term, remains notorious for its mistreatment of inmates. Prison officials have allegedly denied al-Halwachi access to medical attention for serious ailments such as blood clots, a hernia, and even a stroke he had in September 2016. The authorities have also placed him in prolonged solitary confinement, deprived him of adequate clothing to protect him from the cold temperatures of the facility, and kept him in generally unsanitary conditions – typical behavior of the institution.
Fatima al-Halwachi also reported that her father has launched a hunger strike along with many other inmates in protest of the ill treatment in Jau Prison. Meanwhile, the authorities have increasingly targeted Fatima herself in reprisal for her human rights work. Most recently, the government subjected to her to an arbitrary travel ban ahead of the 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The continued imprisonment of Khalil al-Halwachi contravenes the Bahraini government’s international commitments to refrain from torture and arbitrary detention. Bahrain’s authorities must immediately release al-Halwachi and all other prisoners of conscience, while ensuring that detainees and activists are free from any form of reprisal, abuse, or ill treatment.
Sophie Marianos is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.