Spanish Government Responds to MP Joan Baldoví’s Questions Referring to the Status of Political Prisoners in Bahrain

The deputy of Coalició Compromís, MP Joan Baldoví, posed a series of questions to the government relating to the Spanish government’s view and intention regarding the Government of Bahrain’s record of human rights violations, requesting a written response. His questions queried the Spanish Government’s actions in relation to the plight of political prisoners, the precise diplomatic measures that have been undertaken and explicit condemnations of grave human rights violations.

The full statement of MP Baldoví can be read here (Spanish).

The Spanish government replied to Baldoví’s questions in a written statement. Its response was generalized, as it did not mention specific answers in relation to the questions MP Joan Baldoví raised. Instead, the government reply was a broad response to the Bahraini government’s human rights record, and referred to the Spanish Government’s involvement in the EU spearheaded the human rights dialogue with Bahrain and its participation in the last Bahraini Universal Periodic Review.

The full Spanish Government response can be read here (Spanish).

In his questions, MP Baldoví spoke thoroughly about the background context of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country:

“This situation has worsened since 2017, year in which the king reinstated the power of military courts to try civilians. Moreover, since 2017, five individuals have been executed in the firing squad and eight individuals remain at imminent risk of execution. On 14 June 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the respect for human rights in Bahrain, calling on the Bahraini Government to stop executions, release all political activists and end the military courts imposed on citizens. Nevertheless, the Al-Khalifa regime continues with its brutal and inhumane practices. Many Bahraini citizens are being punished because they dared to break the silence against the growing human rights violations taking place in Bahrain. These violations are taking place without impartial investigations and without any criminal responsibility being held against the perpetrators by the human rights monitoring bodies.”

In addition, MP Baldoví clearly identified the names of female political activists that had endured grave political persecution as a result of their, or their relatives, involvement in reporting human rights violations by the Bahraini regime.

“Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain draws attention to the situation of former and current political prisoners in Bahrain, in particular Ms. Najah Yusuf, Ms. Ebtisam Alsaegh, Mrs. Madina Ali and Mrs. Hajer Mansoor. These four women, who are activists and human rights defenders, have been subjected to abuse and ill-treatment at all stages of the criminal process, including unlawful arrest, enforced disappearance, physical, sexual and psychological torture to obtain confessions, denial of access to legal representation, unfair trials and inhumane prison conditions. This includes threats of rape, death or imprisonment both against the women themselves and their relatives.”

His precise questions pertaining to the treatment of political prisoners consist of:

“What is the government’s view on the current situation in Bahrain, where there are thousands of political prisoners who are subjected to the continuous violation of their human and civil rights?”

“What political and diplomatic measures is this government willing to adopt in order to change the situation in Bahrain in order to ensure that the physical integrity and human and civil rights of detained activists are not jeopardized?”

“Will this government demand that the Bahraini regime release all female political Prisoners?”

“Has our Ambassador engaged with the Bahraini government based on EU guidelines on human rights defenders?”

In its reply, the Spanish Government did not mention any specific actions it has undertaken in relation to the release and treatment of political prisoners in Bahrain. Only that it made recommendations in Bahrain’s last third cycle universal periodic review to:

“lift the restrictions imposed and allow the free exercise of the rights of expression, association and assembly.”

MP Baldoví’s second focus was to highlight the real risk of torture being utilised by the Bharaini security forces:

“Experts at the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) confirmed that Ms. Yusuf was tortured and sexually assaulted by agents of Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA) in 2017. The UN working group also determined that her arrest was arbitrary. Ms. Alsaegh was also brutally tortured and sexually assaulted by NSA agents in 2017, because of her participation in the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Ali was severely ill-treated and tortured during the interrogation and is still in prison. Finally, Ms. Mansoor, the mother-in-law of the human rights activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, is still being arbitrarily detained in retaliation for his stepson’s activities in London, as confirmed by the UN WGAD in January 2019.

Since the 2011 protests and intensified crackdown on civil society, Bahraini authorities continue to use elements of torture, abuse, threats and unjust treatment against political prisioners.”

His specific questions relating to reports of torture covers:

“What initiatives does this government intend to take, alone or within international and European bodies, so that there is an explicit condemnation of these grave human rights violations?”

“Will this government open an investigation into Bahraini officials implicated in torture under universal jurisdiction? Especially the Naser bin Hamad against whom serious credible torture allegations were made.”

MP Baldoví’s inclusion of Naser bin Hamad is an expressly pertinent one; as the son of the King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa enjoys a senior post in the Bahrain’s Supreme Defense Council (SDC) in spite of credible allegations that he directly tortured detainees in 2011. A brigadier-general receiving officer training at the United Kingdom (UK)’s Sandhurst military academy, Sheikh Nasser personally headed a detachment of Bahraini Royal Guard’s Special Forces as part of Saudi Arabia’s coalition in Yemen. The war in Yemen has since spiraled into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recording a death toll at approximately 100,000. Combatants to this conflict have been repeatedly accused of committing war crimes.

Evidence emerged that Sheikh Nasser directed the arbitrary detention and torture of protesters, opposition activists, and athletes, after the Bahraini government’s violent suppression of the 2011 pro-democracy movement. Due to his role as the head of the Olympic Committee, Sheikh Nasser created a special commission to target and persecute more than 150 members of the sporting community who had participated in the peaceful protests. Sheik Nasser maintained that the commission was specifically tailored to carry out government reprisals, publicly calling for in a chilling statement “a wall to fall on [protesters’] heads … even if they are an athlete…Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape,”. Two government opposition leaders and members of the Bahrain 13 – a set of prominent prisoners of conscience initially imprisoned by military courts in 2011 – have also reported that Sheikh Nasser personally tortured them at the Ministry of Interior’s facilities in Manama (such as Al-Qala’a). Mohammed Habib al-Miqdad, an opposition figure and prominent regime critic, accused the prince of flogging and beating him and other contemporaries all over their bodies for nearly 12 hours, among other abuses. The evidence against Sheikh Nasser was so strong that in 2014, the High Court of London ruled to suspend Nasser’s royal immunity after a Bahraini refugee under the name “FF” brought a case against him accusing him of torture.The Government of Bahrain continues to dispute the allegations.

Again, the Spanish Government’s reply to MP Baldoví’s questions concerning accounts of torture was broad, only reccomending that the regime criminalise torture and create mechanisms to prevent it. No such direct action had been taken on behalf of the Spanish government to intervene:

“Another mechanism used for monitoring the human rights situation in Bahrain is the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR enables the authorities to dialogue with the rest of the international community on these issues. Spain participates actively in this dialogue with Bahrain, as well as with other countries. On the occasion of Bahrain’s last UPR, in May 2017, Spain made the following recommendations: ratify the main human rights instruments to which Bahrain is not yet a party; adapt its national legislation to them and withdraw the reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; re-establish the moratorium on executions with a view to definitively abolishing the death penalty; criminalize torture in legislation and create a national mechanism for the prevention of torture; improve human rights training and education of security forces;”

Lastly, MP Baldoví pressed the issue of the denial and maltreatment of medical concerns pertaining to incarcerated political prisoners:

“Bahraini prisoners have difficulty maintaining and addressing their health because guards often behave negligently to their needs, medical clinics are severely understaffed, routine medications are not administered properly, access to outside medical facilities are difficult to sheudle, and drinkable water is scarce.

ADHRB reports that Ms. Mansoor, Ms. Yusuf and Ms. Ali have suffered restrictions to access medical treatment. The denial of medical treatment is a form of ill treatment that could constitute torture. It is wilful and designed to cause pain and suffering and hence why it can qualify as torture. The denial of medical assistance to an inmate who is suffering from illness is a constant death sentence hanging over them.

Several NGOs express deep concern about the serious medical neglect of the leader of the political opposition in Bahrain Mr. Hasan Mushaima, who suffers from several medical conditions. It is nothing but an alarming and systematic campaign of slow death. The same medical neglect is taking place against human rights defender and blogger professor Dr. Abduljalil Alsingace, who suffers from post-polio syndrome, resulting in paralysis and confining him to a wheelchair. Dr. Alsingace, sentenced to life imprisonment for taking part in peaceful political protests in 2011, has been deprived of medical treatment and visits to purchase hygiene supplies since February 2017.”

His questions concerning the abuse of medical care pertain to:

“Does Spain have knowledge of prisoners not having access to medical attention? If yes, has Spain condemned this preclusion of prisoner’s rights in its bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Bahrain?”

In the Spanish government’s response, only a passing comment was addressed in respect of lack of medical treatment, and again the Spanish Government failed to cite any direct action it had taken to advocate for the rights of the detainees:

“Since 2016, the EU has been conducting an informal human rights dialogue with Bahrain, without prejudice to the daily monitoring by the EU and its Member States that leads to resolutions. The last dialogue was held on 7 November 2019. As in all such meetings, the general situation of human rights in the country was addressed, emphasising on specific issues such as: access to fair trial; prison conditions (including access to medical treatment) or arbitrary detention.”

All in all, it is clear that the Spanish government has yet to take direct specific action to intervene to prevent or pressure the Bahraini government from committing grave human rights violations against political prisoners. The government can only point to its participation in international coalition efforts, such as the Third Cycle Universal Periodic Review and the EU dialogue, to address these violations. These attempts cac at best be described as the bare minimum, and have been led by the UN or the EU. The Spanish government’s position on the lack of direct intervention can be summed up by the introduction of their response to MP Baldoví, indicating the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs other states:

“Spain follows the situation and evolution of Human Rights (HR) in Bahrain very closely in line with our values, principles and international commitments. Whilst fully respecting the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of third States, Spain makes use of the tools at its disposal to carry out this monitoring, both through our bilateral relations and through multilateral mechanisms for the protection of human rights, specially through the United Nations, as well as within the European Union (EU).”