Profiles in Persecution: Ahmed Mohamed al-Arab

Ahmed Mohamed al-Arab is a 25-year-old nursing student who is currently being held in Bahrain’s Jau Prison. Since security forces detained him on 9 January 2014, he has suffered torture as well as degrading treatment that has compromised his health and his dignity. He has received multiple injuries that have not been allowed to heal as a result of beatings by prison officials. When Bahraini authorities were contacted by United Nations human rights offices about this issue, the Bahraini response simply stated that any injury Ahmed received was the result of police action to subdue him during his arrest.

Ahmed’s rights were further violated during his trial. He was tried and convicted in absentia despite the fact that he was in government custody, and then sentenced to life imprisonment. The fact that he was prevented from attending his own trial is sufficient by itself to establish that the proceedings fell far short of internationally recognized standards of fair trial.

Ahmed faced renewed abuse after 10 March 2015, when Jau Prison experienced a riot against poor conditions and general mistreatment. Prison officials responded with excessive force and continued use of violence after control had been fully reestablished over the rioting cellblocks. Ahmed and others were tortured by administration of electrical shocks and beaten with batons and wooden bludgeons. Prison officials refused to provide Ahmed with medical treatment for a head injury he sustained. Following the riot, prison officers refused to let the inmates shower or change clothes, while Ahmed was forced to sleep outside on a mattress shared with five other prisoners. Prison officials largely cut off communications between Ahmed and his family for a month following the riot. When they finally saw Ahmed again on 13 April 2015, he was noticeably thinner. The guards forced Ahmed to wear a winter prison uniform indoors to cover up the bruises he had received from recent beatings.

On New Year’s Day 2017, there was a prison break at Jau in which Ahmed and several others managed to escape for a short time. (The prison break was seemingly externally organized. One guard was shot and killed by those assaulting the prison from outside. To the best of ADHRB’s knowledge, Ahmed al-Arab had no part in organizing the attack and escaped incidentally.) He has since been re-imprisoned and faces new charges for the escape. Authorities are for the second time preventing him from attending his own trial. His expressed desire to attend his hearing on 22 August was denied by the prison. When an attorney in the courtroom asked why the defendant was not present, a prison representative produced a document that stated Ahmed refused to attend, with Ahmed’s thumbprint affixed as a “signature.” The circumstances strongly suggest that he was coerced into giving his print. Information leaked from Jau indicates that following his recapture Ahmed has been subjected to even more extreme torture than in the past.

Most recently, Ahmed has been subjected to gratuitous imposition of indignity by the prison administration. His permission to go to the prison “canteen” (commissary) has been revoked. Access to the canteen is an urgent need for prisoners in Bahrain, since the Jau administration does not provide basic necessities like soap, toilet paper, or blankets, and the inmates are forced to buy such items themselves. Food and water supplied by the prison itself is often unconsumable, forcing prisoners to buy their meals and bottled water from the canteen. The daily time allowed Ahmed outside his cell has been cut to half of that given to other prisoners. When his uncle, with whom he was extremely close, recently passed away, the Jau administration effectively denied Ahmed’s request to see his family by refusing to respond to his petition until after the funeral was over. Subsequent family visits have been arbitrarily delayed by the guards, who then remain in the room during the visit.

Bahrain’s actions violate domestic and international law. Bahrain is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 14.3(d) of which states: “In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled … [t]o be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing.” This is considered one of the “minimum guarantees” of fair trial. By refusing to allow Ahmed to attend his own trial, while he was in state custody throughout, Bahrain grossly violated the lowest baseline of lawful trial. Even more egregiously, Ahmed was tortured and degraded in patent violation of Covenant Articles 7 and 10.1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has raised Ahmed’s case before UN special-procedures offices in the hope of securing his human and legal rights against the abuses of the Bahraini government. ADHRB calls upon the broader international community, and especially Bahrain’s chief military partners in the US and UK, to cease business as usual with a government that unlawfully detains, tortures, and imprisons its citizens while denying even a semblance of fair trial.