Profiles in Persecution: Husain Ali al-Sahlawi

On 14 March 2010, Bahraini security forces shot Husain Ali al-Sahlawi as he was leaving his grandmother’s house. Several shotgun blasts of birdshot were fired at him and he was wounded by pellets in over 70 locations. Witnesses to the attack took him to the home of Ebrahim al-Demestani, who was at the time the secretary for Bahrain’s nursing association. There, Husain received first aid that saved his life. He was taken home, but because his condition was still critical his parents soon took him to the emergency room at Salmaniya Medical Complex on 16 March.

Almost immediately after he was admitted to the emergency room, Bahraini security forces appeared to detain Husain. They bound him to his hospital bed and refused to let him move even to use the bathroom, instead forcing him to urinate into a bottle. He was not permitted to be left alone with his family even while restrained in the bed in his hospital room. Employees of the Office of Public Prosecution (OPP) appeared to interrogate Husain. The interrogations were accompanied by physical violence even as he lay in the hospital bed, and one of the doctors at Salmaniya once struck Husain for attempting to use the restroom. His family was prevented from accessing his medical records, and though the hospital conducted several procedures to assess the extent of the damage, Husain was not allowed to remain for treatment. Instead, after several days, he was transferred to a military hospital with a shotgun pellet still lodged in his jaw and approximately 70 more scattered throughout his body. At the military hospital he was refused all treatment, including even medication and painkillers. (His family was able to bring him some painkillers which they had to purchase out of pocket.)

On or around 22 March 2010, Husain was transferred again to North Hamad Town Police Station, where the OPP ordered him detained for 45 days pending investigation, and a considerable time afterward – well over a month at least – he was transferred again to the Criminal Investigations Directorate. Throughout this period of detention, Husain was severely tortured. He was electrocuted, beaten, forced to stand with his arms and legs bound, deprived of sleep for days at a time, held in stress positions for lengthy periods, doused in cold water while being held in a cold room (which increased the pain from his wounds), and verbally degraded and abused for being a Shia Muslim. Eventually, under torture, Husain signed several previously prepared confessions.

After the extraction of the confessions, Husain was released pending trial. He remained out on recognizance until the mass pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011, at which point he was convicted and sentenced in absentia. Husain went into hiding and was not captured until 23 May 2012, when officers found him at a coffee shop, beat him in public, confiscated his personal property including all his identity documents, and took him to Jau Prison, where the torture began again. The extreme physical violence did not cease after the initial period of detention, as is sometimes the case, but has continued over the years since. Around early 2015, for instance, the guards at Jau beat him so severely he needed stitches above and below the eye. Following the unrest at Jau in March 2015, Husain was beaten until the stitches reopened. Recently, he has been subjected to degrading treatment, such as being forced to sleep under a stairwell without a bed. He still suffers regular abuse, including physical assault by the guards, seemingly because he is viewed as a long-time dissident (since he was first detained in 2010, even before the Arab Spring). Having never received medical treatment over the past seven years, he still has 70 or more shotgun pellets in his body, which continue to cause pain and discomfort.

Bahrain’s actions clearly violate international law, including its own treaty commitments. Bahrain is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, and also to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7 and 10 of which ban any form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the international community to hold Bahrain to its treaty obligations, the more so as this long-term pattern of abuse remains ongoing just weeks after Bahrain nominally accepted a new round of recommendations under the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its rights record.