Sheikh Zuhair Jasim Abbas, also known as Sheikh Zuhair Ashoor, the opposition Shia cleric, was a 32-year-old teacher in the scholarly Hoza AlSayed AlGharifi for Islamic studies, when he was arbitrarily arrested by Bahraini authorities on 18 July 2013. During his detention and investigation, he was subject to severe torture and to several human rights violations, and recently, he was subjected to enforced disappearance from 10July 2020 to 17 January 2021 during which he was subjected to various forms of torture and harassment as a form of reprisal for his stances and activism calling for the prisoners’ rights. He is currently held in Jau Prison, where he is serving his life sentence.
At around 3:30 p.m. on 18 July 2013, Society police officers, masked officers, and officers from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) raided Sheikh Zuhair’s home without presenting any warrant before discovering that Sheikh Zuhair was not living there. Then, they pointed a pistol to his father’s head and threatened to kill him if he did not tell them about Sheikh Zuhair’s whereabouts. When he refused to tell the officers, they dragged him into a police car. While in the car, the officers received a call that they had found Sheikh Zuhair. MOI cars and the cars of what was known as the community police force surrounded Sheikh Zuhair’s car at the Bahrain Commercial Complex in the Dieh area when he was with his pregnant wife and two children, stopped the car, and masked individuals arrested him without a warrant. Then, they transported him to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID), without disclosing the destination to his family, where the interrogations started.
During the interrogation period from 18 July 2013 till 24 August 2013, Sheikh Zuhair was severely tortured on a daily basis without being asked any question, and he was unable to appoint a lawyer. He was severely beaten with water hoses and electrocuted until he fainted, forced to stand up continuously, deprived of sleep for days, and verbally abused. Sheikh Zuhair never knew the case he was accused of while he was being brutally tortured except that he was forced to sign papers while blindfolded. Because of torture, Sheikh Zuhair developed weakness in sight and refraction in vision, and he was not examined by any doctor until 9 months after his arrest. It is believed that Sheikh Zuhair was arrested and tortured because of his peaceful opposition activities. He was also subjected to enforced disappearance during the first three days of the interrogation period at the CID. Three days after his arrest, Sheikh Zuhair was allowed to call his family for the first time. Four days after the arrest, the MOI published his picture with other detainees in newspapers and on social media platforms , saying that they were accused of bombing a car in front of a mosque in Riffa. On 24 August 2013, Sheikh Zuhair was brought before the Public Prosecution Office (PPO), where he was threatened with more torture in case he refused to confess to the charges against him. He was then transferred to Dry Dock Detention Center.
Whilebeing transferred to the Dry Dock Detention Center, Sheikh Zuhair finally learned of the charges and confessions that he signed. He was transferred back to the CID multiple times while blindfolded, where he was tortured again before being returned on the same day to Dry Dock Detention Center.
On 10 November 2013, Sheikh Zuhair was convicted of several charges, most notably the establishment of a terrorist cell, financing and possession of fireworks, training on the use of weapons and explosives, and participating in and contributing to the bombing in Riffa, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. This was his first life sentence. Sheikh Zuhair was transferred to Jau Prison after the verdict was issued. During his imprisonment, he was tortured several times and brought to interrogation, then he was convicted in two cases, which are: 1) Intelligence cooperation with foreign countries, and 2) Funding a terrorist organization and participating in it, or the case called “Al-Basta Group”. He was again sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment, in these two cases in 2015 and 30 October 2017, respectively.
While in Building 10 of Jau Prison in 2015, Sheikh Zuhair was accused of participating in the riots during the events of Jau prison in 2015, and he was exposed to systemic physical and mental torture. After this torture, he was not even able to recognize his own daughter after her first visit.
When he was held in Jau Prison Building 14, Sheikh Zuhair was subject, along with a large group of detainees, to mistreatment and was beaten and denied food, medical care, and showers. In July 2020, Sheikh Zuhair participated in a contact strike with hundreds of inmates in Buildings 13 and 14. Their demands included providing prisoners with proper medical care, ending the use of severe shackling while being transferred to the clinic, stopping the harassment of prisoners during calls and visits, providing personal hygiene products at the canteen, and allowing prisoners to practice religious rituals freely.
On 9 August 2020, Sheikh Zuhair joined a hunger strike in protest of the administration’s negligence as well as the banning of religious rituals ahead of Ashura. The next day, Sheikh Zuhair, along with Ali AlWazeer, Naji Fateel, Sadiq Al-Ghasra, Mohamed Fakhrawi, and Mohamed Sarhan, was transferred to Building 15 for “inciting” inmates to go on strike. Each prisoner was placed in a cell with 3 migrant prisoners of different culture and language. This was a form of reprisal against the prisoners as they were isolated from each other and any other Bahraini prisoners, unable to perform religious rituals during Muharram. On August 18, the prison administration met with these prisoners, and they were transferred back to Building 14, ending their hunger strike. Later, on the same day they were suddenly transferred back to Building 15, except for the activist Naji Fateel. As a result, the prisoners remained on the contact strike.
Since their transfer, these inmates had suffered mistreatment and harassment, as their legs and hands were shackled the whole time, they were prohibited from going to the yard or buying products at the canteen and would be constantly insulted. Officers also confiscated Sheikh Zuhair’s religious books, including books that he was writing, and prevented him from practicing rituals during Muharram.
On 29 August, the ninth day of Muharram, a Yemeni officer insulted AlWazeer and the Shia ritual, hitting him. AlWazeer in turn, pushed back against the policeman who was injured. As a result, AlWazeer and Sheikh Zuhair were taken from their cells and were disappeared. Sheikh Zuhair was seen in the clinic of Jau Prison on the day of the altercation and only said that he had no idea where he would be transferred. Sheikh Zuhair had been transferred with AlWazeer to the Royal Academy Building and then the CID in Adliya, where Sheikh Zuhair was subjected to severe beating and charged with incitement to murder in the case of the altercation between AlWazeer and the officer. He was then transferred to solitary confinement, and his news were cut. Sheikh Zuhair’s enforced disappearance continued until 17 January 2021 as no phone call was received from him from inside the prison despite the conflicting information that his family was receiving about his whereabouts or wellbeing. During the last call before his disappearance on 10 July 2020, Sheikh Zuhair had been subjected to harassment and pressure as was the case during other prior calls. During every call, he would be taken to an office, where he would be surrounded by officers and recorded, which prevented him from speaking freely or comfortably. Furthermore, there had been completely no news about him for 3 months. All efforts by his family to either contact the Jau administration or to inquire about his location and wellbeing through official channels, such as the Ombudsman Office and NIHR, had been unsuccessful, and the result was the failure to obtain any answer other than their claim that Sheikh Zuhair was on a communication strike until 17 January 2021.
On 17 January 2021,after a series of organized human rights movements and intense media campaigns, both inside and outside Bahrain, demanding the disclosure of the Sheikh’s whereabouts and wellbeing, Sheikh Zuhair was able to make a 5-minute call with his family for the first time since July 2020, therefore ending his enforced disappearance. The next day, on 18 January, he called his family again and talked about the forms of torture he had endured during his disappearance, which were shared. The family made a statement on the same day, transmitting what the sheikh described about his time in solitary confinement: he was deprived of sleep for seven days, his hands and feet were tied with iron chains throughout the seven-day period, food was passed to him through a small hole under the cell door, and water was provided to him only twice per day. He was also constantly kicked and beaten with water hoses, was prevented from performing prayers, from relieving himself in the bathroom, and from showering, and was being insulted and threatened that he would soon be executed. After this ill-treatment, Sheikh Zuhair was unable to move normally for a long time due to the deterioration of his health as a result of the severity of the torture. After that, he was transferred to the isolation building, Building 15 in Jau Prison, and then transferred to Building 4, which is reserved for prisoners with severe infectious diseases, and was placed in a room with some of these ill prisoners.
During the call on January 18, with Sheikh Ashoor talking about what he had been subjected to, he was intercepted by the voices of some of the officers who were near and started screaming, and soon the call was cut off.
Sheikh Zuhair’s warrantless arrest, torture, denial of attorney access, unfair trial, denial of medical treatment, inhumane treatment, religious discrimination based on his belonging to the Shia sect, as well as theenforced disappearance he recently suffered from violate both the Bahraini Constitution as well as international obligations to which Bahrain is party, namely, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Since an arrest warrant was not presented and given that Sheikh Zuhair’s conviction depended on a forced false confession, we can conclude that Sheikh Zuhair is arbitrarily detained by Bahraini authorities.
Accordingly, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the Bahraini authorities to immediately stop the harassment, torture and ill-treatment practiced by the prison authorities against Sheikh Zuhair. ADHRB also calls on them to fulfill their human rights obligations and to investigate all allegations of torture, especially during his last period of detention, where he was isolated from the outside world for six months and placed in solitary confinement for a long time. ADHRB also demands that the official authorities claiming to defend prisoners’ rights and human rights take action,\ and play their role in order to stop the culture of impunity and to bring the torturers and violators of human rights in prison to trial instead of considering them the victim. ADHRB reiterates its demand for Bahraini authorities to release Sheikh Zuhair Ashoor immediately, along with all political prisoners that were tried based on confessions taken under torture.