Two Years Ago Bahrain Police Violently Cracked Down on a Peaceful Sit-In in Duraz, Killing 5

23 May 2019 – Today marks the two-year anniversary of the violent raid on Duraz, where Bahraini authorities cracked down on a peaceful sit-in, resulting in the deaths of five individuals and the injury and arrest of hundreds. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the lethal actions taken by the Bahraini government two years ago and calls on the kingdom to investigate and prosecute those involved in the use of excessive force and extrajudicial killings.

In June 2016, the government revoked prominent Shia religious leader Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship, prompting his supporters to rally to his side in a mass, peaceful sit-in to protect him from deportation.  The Bahraini government has weaponized citizenship, arbitrarily denationalizing 990 people since 2012. In April 2019, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa AlKhalifa issued an order reinstating the citizenship of 551 individuals previously stripped of their Bahraini citizenship, but the status of 439 persons, including Sheikh Isa Qassam, remains unknown.

Bahraini authorities responded to the peaceful sit-in in Duraz by erecting barriers around the village, restricting access to residents only, and conducting sporadic raids. On 21 December 2016, security forces attacked the protesters, surrounding them with at least a dozen police vehicles and firing tear gas cans into the demonstrators. Roughly a month later, on 26 January 2017, security forces used live ammunition against the protesters, fatally shooting 18-year-old Mustafa Hamdan in the head. These events culminated on 23 May 2017, when security forces again attacked the protesters with tear gas and shotguns before denying dozens of wounded civilians access to hospitals and medical care. This attack resulted in five dead and at least 286 arrested, making it the bloodiest security force action since before 2011. One of the deceased individuals was 28-year-old Mohamed Hamdan, the older brother of Mustafa Hamdan who was shot and killed earlier that year.

Former United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, urged the Bahraini government to “investigate the events of 23 May, in particular the loss of lives, to ensure that the findings are made public and that those responsible are held accountable.” He also called on Bahrain to choose a path of “engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator.” A group of UN rights experts urged Bahrain to “halt its orchestrated crackdown on civil society” and highlighted the use of excessive and lethal force to disperse peaceful protestors in Duraz.

Of the over 280 arrested for their participation in the non-violent Duraz sit-ins, 171 were brought to trial. On 27 February 2019, 167 of the individuals were convicted in a mass trial. Their sentences ranged in length from six months to ten years in prison, with the most common sentence issued against more than half of the defendants being one year in prison. Over 50 of the defendants were handed down ten years in prison and ten of the individuals convicted were minors. Additionally, the judge who presided over the case and handed down the verdict is a member of the AlKhalifa ruling family.

One of the defendants, Osama Nezar AlSagheer, was a 20-year-old Bahraini student when he was arrested. Following his arrest, Osama was forcibly disappeared, tortured, denied medical care, and stripped of his nationality – though his nationality was reinstated under the king’s April 2019 order. Officers beat him repeatedly on the head and on his hand, both of which had been injured by shotgun pellets during his arrest, in order to obtain a confession. They also forced Osama to insult his Shia beliefs, imitate animal noises as a form of degradation, and utter obscenities. Officers also allegedly forcibly disappeared Osama until visible injuries had subsided, in order to hide evidence of torture. As a result of the torture, Osama suffers from chronic headaches and has lost mobility in his right ring finger. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.

Two of the individuals arrested at Duraz were tried in the military trial of civilians in December 2017, a trial which seven UN experts condemned as a “collective trial against established international human rights law and standards.” ADHRB has previously represented 11 of the individuals in the Duraz case, at least four of whom claim to have been tortured at some point during their detention and interrogation.

An appeal hearing is scheduled for next Monday, 27 May 2019 for the defendants convicted in the “Duraz Case.”

Bahrain’s actions in Duraz in 2017 and the subsequent trial were in violation of international human rights law and Bahrain’s treaty obligations, including the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These actions were also in contravention of basic human rights principles as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). The crackdown on civil and political society in Duraz was in violation of the right to the freedoms of expression, assembly, and belief or opinion in the ICCPR and UDHR. The torture and ill treatment alleged by some of the defendants in this case is in violation of the CAT, ICCPR, and contravenes the right to freedom from torture in the UDHR. Additionally, the use of a mass trial, in which many of the defendants were already imprisoned under other charges and unable to attend trial sessions is in violations to fair trial right in the ICCPR and UDHR. Finally, the use of excessive force and the extrajudicial killing of protestors was in violation of the right to life as laid out in the ICCPR and UDHR.

“Two years later and no one had been held accountable for the violent and deadly events of 23 May 2017. The Bahraini government has spearheaded a culture of impunity for officials who perpetrate human rights violations, and the fact that five people were killed and no one has been held responsible just goes to show how strong this impunity culture truly is,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “It should be the Bahraini authorities going to trial and being sentenced to prison terms, not those exercising their right to peaceful assembly.”

On the two-year anniversary of the lethal Duraz raid, ADHRB calls on the Government of Bahrain to allow for an independent investigation into the events that occurred and to justly prosecute those involved in the extrajudicial killings of five individuals. Additionally, ADHRB urges Bahrain to overturn the sentences of those convicted in an unfair trail in relation to their involvement in peacefully protesting the treatment of Sheikh Isa Qassim in Duraz.