Profile In Persecution: Naji Ali Fateel

Human rights defender Naji Ali Fateel is a prominent rights activist, blogger, protest organiser and co-founder of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR). Fateel has been arrested on numerous occasions for his participation in peaceful assemblies and protests. In 2013, Fateel was arbitrarily arrested in his own home, and later, he was tortured and suffered ill-treatment, including being subjected to electric shocks, threatened, beaten and deprived of food and sleep. Fateel was sentenced in an unfair trial and remains in Jau Prison to this day, as do some of the severe injuries that he sustained from his torture. 

On 2 May 2013, Naji’s home in the village of Bani Jamra was raided without a warrant by 12 police officers dressed in civilian uniform and members of the Special Security Force Command (SSFC). The masked policemen intimidated Naji’s family members and confiscated his belongings, including his laptop and mobile phone. The officers also seized some personal documents, in addition to his daughter’s laptop and wife’s camera. Following this, the officers beat Naji in front of his family, handcuffed him, and forced him into an armored bus. In the bus, he was placed on the floor and officers stamped on his head. 

On their way to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), an officer handed Naji a phone, and he was threatened. Despite these threats, Naji remained silent. The police officers and SSFC personnel did not provide any warrant at the time of Naji’s arrest. Naji believes that he was arrested because of his human rights activism, which was especially prevalent  during the 2011 political crisis in Bahrain, when he received multiple death threats. Since the crisis, Naji has been targeted and monitored by police. Allegedly, Naji was arrested for his participation in the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in March 2013 that took place from 25 February to 22 March 2013. 

Upon Naji’s arrival at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), he was placed in solitary confinement for three days. Naji was only granted contact with his family on 4 May 2013. Naji was accused of and charged with; participating in an illegal assembly with the purpose of disrupting public security by using violence; establishing the group ‘February 14 Coalition’ with the intention of reforming the Constitution; and participating in the Jau Prison Riots on 10 March 2015. 

After three trials were held between May 2013 and January 2016, Naji was sentenced to a total of 25 years and 6 months in prison for the charges brought against him. All the judgements issued against Naji have been upheld; except in the third instance, where the sentence was later reduced to 10 years. On 9 May 2013, Naji was detained by the Public Prosecutor Office (PPO) on suspicion of violating Article 6 of the Bahraini Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. Despite requesting the Chief Public Prosecutor for an attorney, Naji was denied his right to contact his lawyer.

Naji was later transferred to the CID for interrogation, where he was subjected to torture and suffered ill-treament, including severe beatings all over his body, electric shocks to his genitals, simulated drowning, verbal insults, threats to publish private pictures of his wife, and being placed in solitary confinement for three days. Naji was repeatedly tortured during the interrogations and received rape threats. He was also threatened with the arrest of his family if he did not comply with the investigating officers. Naji recounts how he blacked out twice while being hanged from the ceiling, and was subsequently transferred to a hospital. Naji also detailed how he was subjected to sleep deprivation and forced to stand for long periods of time. In addition to this, Naji was denied his right to prayer. It is reported that Naji was handcuffed and blindfolded throughout the investigations. Following his torture, Naji was forced to sign a confession without knowing the contents of the document.

Four days after his arrest, Naji was brought before the Public Prosecution Office. The Chief  Public Prosecutor denied Naji his legal right to an attorney during his interrogation. Naji was transferred to and from the Public Prosecution building and the CID, on account of his unwillingness to cooperate with the investigating officers. At the CID, Naji was tortured until he lost consciousness, and had to be referred to a hospital. When he woke up, Naji was returned to the PPO and forced to sign a confession. Subsequently, he was transferred to the CID. Throughout this ordeal, Naji was deprived of food. All of these proceedings occurred within the same night. In the week following his arrest, Naji was transferred to Block 5 of the Dry Dock detention centre.

Two to three months after Naji’s arrest, he was visited by the Chief Public Prosecutor in Jau Prison, who wished to interview him about his alleged role in the Jau prison riots. Once again, Naji demanded that there be a lawyer present during the interview. In response to his request, the Chief Public Prosecutor said that he would reschedule the investigation after contacting Naji’s lawyer. According to Naji, nothing ever came of this.   

Naji’s family was only allowed to visit him on 29 September 2013, after the second judgement was issued against him. Naji has been consistently denied the right to see his family.  In July 2013, Naji was transferred to Jau Central Prison. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Naji was one of the many prisoners who were physically and psychologically tortured at the hands of Bahraini authorities following the Jau Prison riots in 2015. 

Naji has sustained several injuries, including wounds to his back, as a result of his torture.He suffers from reduced hearing in his left ear, and relies on a hearing aid in the other. Naji has also suffered from a broken leg and nose, among many other injuries.  Naji has requested to be examined by a doctor for an injury that he sustained to his left leg whilst filming a protest. The surgery to rectify this injury was initially scheduled in 2018, but later cancelled. Naji has also mentioned that the prison food is not suitable for this health condition and causes him stomach pains, since he suffers from high cholesterol. 

Naji’s coerced confession was used as evidence against him in trial, regarding the first and second case. In 2013, Naji attended a court hearing and was able to show the judge his back injuries that were sustained as a result of torture. The judge transferred  Naji to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) the very same day.  The Chief Public Prosecutor saw the injuries on his back, and reassured him that measures would be taken. Naji was told that he would be examined by a doctor and was later transferred to the Dry Dock Detention. This examination did not happen. 

Following the Jau Prison riots, Naji filed several complaints to the Special Investigation Unit, the Public Prosecutor’s Office,  the National Institute for Human Rights Foundation, the Punishment Enforcement Judge and the Attorney-General. These complaints were not followed-through.  In addition to this, Naji and his wife filed a complaint to the Ombudsman in 2014. These complaints have yet to be investigated. In 2013, the President of the Law Society sent a letter to King Hamad expressing deep concerns over Naji’s arbitrary arrest and detention. No investigation has been conducted into the first letter, nor a subsequent letter that was sent in 2015, and relayed the events of a court hearing dated 18 November 2013, when the judge reportedly obstructed the defense from interviewing the prosecution witnesses, a policeman silenced a lawyer, and a another attorney was thrown out of court. Naji continues to be subjected to physical and psychological torture due to his continued activism within Jau prison; he was placed in isolation for 6 months and has been denied his religious freedoms.  

In 2014, Naji started a hunger strike for freedom. Naji’s treatment at the hands of the Bahraini authorities is proof of  Bahrain’s violations of their international human rights pledges, including but not limited to Articles 5, 7, 9, 10, 14, 17 and 18 of thethe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). 

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights calls upon the government of Bahrain for the immediate release of Naji Fateel and an investigation into his case, without further delay, in order to hold all perpetrators of his ill-treatment to account.