23 September 2019 – On 6 September 2019, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) sent a letter to the Honorable William Barr, the United States Attorney General. The letter raises concerns regarding the current human rights situation in the kingdom perpetuated by Ambassador AlKhalifa. ADHRB calls on Attorney General Barr to open an investigation into Ambassador AlKhalifa’s alleged overseeing of human rights abuses like torture and ill treatment, which are in violation of both international law and 18 U.S.C. § 2340. Read the letter below, and find a PDF version of the letter here.
6 September 2019
Attorney General William Barr
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Barr,
We at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) write to you to raise our concerns about allegations of gross violations of human rights in Bahrain, overseen by Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashid bin Abdullah AlKhalifa, Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States. In addition to holding this prestigious position, Ambassador AlKhalifa is a member of the AlKhalifa ruling family, son to Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah AlKhalifa, who has also been accused of overseeing human rights abuses in Bahrain. Notably, Ambassador AlKhalifa holds dual nationalities as both a Bahraini and American citizen, and received his education here in the US. Ambassador AlKhalifa and his subordinates have been accused of acts of torture and ill treatment, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2340, and in violation of international human rights law. As such, we respectfully request that you direct the Department of
Justice to open an investigation into these alleged crimes.
Before his tenure as Ambassador, Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashid bin Abdullah AlKhalifa held multiple positions, including the Governor of Bahrain’s Southern Governorate from 2010-2017; President of the Asian Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness; and Vice President of the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness since 2008. Ambassador AlKhalifa used these positions to gain prominence while allowing his subordinates to target and arbitrarily human rights defenders and subject detainees and prisoners to torture and ill treatment.
While serving as the Governor of Bahrain’s Southern Governorate, Ambassador AlKhalifa oversaw some of Bahrain’s detention centers, including the East and West Riffa police stations, where activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, including Nabeel Rajab, Mohammed Ramadan, Nazeeha Saeed, and Mahmood Abdulsaheb were arbitrarily detained and reported torture, ill treatment, and denial of medical care. The Southern Governorate also has authority over the notorious Jau Prison, which suffers from severe overcrowding and implemented the shackling of prisoners for medical appointments in 2017, which Human Rights Watch has denounced as inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of international law. Ambassador AlKhalifa also held this position in March 2015, when security forces and prison guards reportedly used teargas, birdshot, and beatings in response to unrest in the prison. In the weeks following, prisoners reported collective punishment and rampant torture by the guards, including forcing inmates to sleep in the prison yard for multiple weeks, dousing them with cold water, subjecting them to forced standing and sectarian insults, and depriving them of food and sleep.
In addition to the detention centers and prisons, officials in the Southern Governorate carried out human rights violations at other locations during Ambassador AlKhalifa’s tenure as Governor, including at the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Hospital. During the 2011 demonstrations, the BDF Hospital was used to abuse, threaten, and intimidate individuals who had been injured in protests and sought medical treatment. Detainees reported that they were taken to the BDF Hospital but denied medical care, and were instead beaten, handcuffed, blindfolded, and tortured before being transferred to detention centers or prisons. Multiple individuals reported being threatened with sexual assault against themselves and their families, and at least one detainee reported receiving death threats.
The Formula One Grand Prix takes place in Sakhir, Bahrain, in the Southern Governorate. Bahraini authorities have violently enforced restrictions on free assembly and targeted peaceful demonstrations. In April 2013, for example, security forces arrested activists Rihanna al-Mosawi and Nafeesa al-Asfoor on charges of “attempting to plant an explosive device in the Formula 1 racetrack” after they planned to stage a peaceful protest in the area. Both reported that they were threatened and subjected to ill treatment in custody; with al-Mosawi alleging that she was stripped of her clothing and beaten. Both were imprisoned and, although they were ultimately pardoned in 2015 (al-Asfoor) and 2016 (alMosawi), the reports of abuse were never properly investigated by the government. Activists also routinely accuse the government of using the Formula 1 event as a key means of ‘whitewashing’ their human rights record on the international stage, and report that human rights abuses actually increase around the event due to crackdowns on protests.
Ambassador AlKhalifa also served as President of the Asian Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (AFBF) and Vice President of the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness (IFBF) during 2011, when Bahraini authorities carried out a campaign of reprisals against athletes in Bahrain for their participation in pro-democracy protests. In 2011, Bahraini authorities arrested and reportedly tortured Tariq Al-Farasani, Bahrain and Asia bodybuilding champion. Despite his role as head of these federations, Sheikh Abdullah did not interfere in the case. Tariq was detained for two months and then sentenced to one year in prison in the National Safety Court, which used the military judiciary to try civilians who participated in demonstrations.
Ambassador AlKhalifa has used his various positions of power and authority, as well as his status as a member of the ruling family, to protect his subordinates and provide them with impunity for the torture and ill treatment of political prisoners and human rights defenders, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2340.
Acts of torture constitute crimes under both international and domestic US laws, and cannot be tolerated by the US government, particularly when those acts are allegedly perpetrated or overseen by a US citizen. We must hold our own accountable. As such, we call on you, in your capacity as Attorney General, to open an investigation into the allegations of torture and ill treatment described above, and particularly into allegations that Ambassador AlKhalifa knew or should have known that these gross violations of human rights occurred, with a view towards his potential prosecution, should sufficient evidence be discovered.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)