Profile in Persecution: Sayed Mahmood Ali AlAlawi

Sayed Mahmood Ali AlAlawi was a 21-year-old student in September 2020 when Bahraini authorities warrantlessly arrested him at his house in Hawrat Sanad. Following this warrantless arrest and subsequent detention, Sayed Mahmood has developed severe psychological problems which required a transfer to a psychiatric hospital. He is currently serving his 15 years sentence at Jau prison.

Sayed Mahmood was first arrested at the age of 15, on 29 July 2015 and was charged with 1) carrying explosives or weapons in a public place; 2) illegal gathering with the aim of committing crimes and disturbing security; 3) importing and possessing explosives, rifles or pistols without a license, and trading them; and 4) using explosives to endanger people’s lives and the possessions of others, in the fulfilment of a terrorist purpose. He was sentenced to seven years in prison on 20 December 2015 after an unsuccessful appeal. After serving four and a half years of his sentence, he was released within the framework of alternative sentencing on 17 December 2019, only to be arrested again less than a year later.

On 30 September 2020, officers in civilian clothing, accompanied by another officer dressed in a security forces uniform, raided Sayed Mahmood’s family house in Hawrat Sanad at 10:30 pm. The officers warrantlessly arrested him from the roof of the neighbors’ house, without mentioning a reason for the arrest. They searched the entire house until around 12:30 am, seizing two cars registered in the name of Sayed Mahmood’s father, which have still not been returned.

On the same night, at 2:00 am, Sayed Mahmood called his family and informed them that he was at the Central Investigation Department (CID). Following that call, contact with him was cut off for five consecutive days. Sayed Mahmood was interrogated without a lawyer for seven days, until 7 October 2020, when he was presented to the public prosecution without his lawyer. During that time, CID officers tortured Sayed Mahmood and extracted a forced confession from him. Sayed Mahmood reports that he was also taken to the City Center Mall to be filmed, and the film was presented as evidence in the court.

Sayed Mahmood has been charged with financing and joining a terrorist group and attempting to bomb the City Center Mall. He was denied access to his lawyer during court sessions, and he had not been allowed to present evidence, such as the full surveillance footage from City Center Mall, nor to challenge the evidence presented against him in court, including his forced confessions. Furthermore, edited and cropped surveillance footage was played in court, but it did not reveal the presence of explosives, incendiary balloons or any kind of weapons, nor did it appear that he carried or placed any objects as was mentioned in the confessions or prosecution record. All that could be seen in the footage was a person wearing a mask, a hat and sunglasses, walking in the mall, and not engaged in any suspicious activity.

Although Sayed Mahmood’s parents did not know the details of this interrogation at the time, they suspect it is connected to the deterioration of his psychological health. Before his arrest, Sayed Mahmood did not suffer from any mental problems. A forensic doctor examined him on 8 October 2020, and determined him to be in good health. However, a couple of months after his arrest, on 5 February 2021, Sayed Mahmood was transferred by ambulance from AlQal’a clinic to the Emergency Department of the Salmaniya Medical Complex after refusing to eat, drink, or speak ov24-hour hour period and exhibiting depressive symptoms. Clinical notes on a referral form from that date explain that Sayed Mahmood, who has no history of drug use or psychiatric medication, was not responding to questions, was staring at the roof and the walls, and asked to meet his grandfather who passed away four months earlier and tried to commit suicide. A report by his psychiatrist on 15 June 2021 also stated these issues.

On 6 February 2021, he was admitted to the Psychiatric hospital of Bahrain in Salmaniya, Manama. The next day Sayed Mahmood was allowed to call his family to inform them of his location. They reported his voice was weak and miserable and that he refused to speak any further. After the call, the family went to the psychiatric hospital where they were refused entry without a permit from the Detention Center. When they later contacted the Detention Center, the family’s request for this permit was denied on the grounds that visits to the hospital are forbidden. The only contact they have been allowed with Sayed Mahmood has been through 15-minute phone calls every Monday and Friday.

On 9 February 2021, Sayed Mahmood’s family sent out a call appealing to various organizations for help discovering his fate and to visit him at the psychiatric hospital. During the last trial sessions, Sayed Mahmood’s lawyer requested his referral to a tripartite medical committee based on the recommendation of his treating physician, as he was experiencing convulsions and hallucinations, and despite taking his medications, his condition was not improving.

Sayed Mahmood’s parents have submitted several complaints to the Ombudsman and sent a letter to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) regarding Sayed Mahmood’s warrantless arrest, the confiscation of his father’s cars, the reasons behind the deterioration of his psychological health, and requesting to visit him at the psychiatric hospital. His family was finally given permission to meet with him on 4 November 2021 after being restricted to contact through calls for over a year.

Despite his medical condition, the Fourth High Criminal Court sentenced Sayed Mahmood on 12 January 2022 to 15 years in prison and a 100,000-Bahraini-Dinar fine.

Sayed Mahmood has been kept in the psychiatric ward where his condition continues to deteriorate. He tested positive for Covid-19 on 2 February 2022 but recovered. On 12 February 2022, Sayed Mahmood escaped from the Psychiatric Hospital and was found two hours later hiding at his relatives’ house, seemingly in shock, complaining of severe headache and begging to be protected from individuals following him and wanting to kill him. Moreover, his clothes smelled of vomit. His father’s house was raided on the same day in a search of Sayed, but his family had been unaware he had escaped. On the night of 12 February 2022, Sayed Mahmood’s uncles, Sayed Jaafar AlAlawi and Sayed Radhi AlAlawi, were chained and arrested from their houses on the charge of sheltering their nephew, and prevented from communicating with their family.

His uncle’s wife was also arrested on 14 February after she was summoned to the police station on the same charge. After his re-arrest, his family was not provided with any information of his whereabouts or well-being. Upon inquiry, the family was told that Sayed Mahmood was not returned to the Psychiatric Hospital. On 14 June 2022, he was sentenced to imprisonment for 3 additional years for his escape, bringing the total of his sentence to 18 years. Additionally, his two uncles and his uncle’s wife who had been arrested and released following his escape were each sentenced to a year in prison on the charge of harboring Sayed Mahmood. On 5 October 2022, after 6 months of imprisonment, an appeal ruling was issued acquitting them and granting their release. As for Sayed Mahmood’s sentence, it was reduced to 6 months. He is currently imprisoned in Jau prison.

Bahraini authorities’ treatment of Sayed Mahmood, from his arbitrary and warrantless arrest, denial of fair trial and due process rights, torture and ill-treatment leading to a severe and ongoing deterioration of his psychological health and mental well-being, and refusal to allow his parents to meet with him, all constitute violations of Bahrain’s obligations under the Bahraini Constitution and under international treaties, namely the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

 Finally, ADHRB calls upon authorities to urgently investigate the circumstances which led to Sayed Mahmood’s mental setback with a view to holding the responsible officers accountable in addition to allowing his family to regularly meet with him and be informed about his condition.