Profile in Persecution: Sayed Mujtaba Alawi AlKhabbaz

Sayed Mujtaba Alawi AlKhabbaz, a university student in his first semester of computer engineering, was only 17 years old when he was warrantlessly arrested in Ghuraifa. Sayed has since been subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the Bahraini authorities who have deprived him of the chance to complete his higher education. Sayed, who had never been summoned or arrested before, is currently imprisoned in Jau prison.

On 1 October 2020, one week before he turned 18, security patrols surrounded Sayed Mujtaba while he was with a friend in Ghuraifa. Officers in civilian clothing as well as officers from the Ministry of Interior (MoI), including riot police, security police forces, and CID officers arrested Sayed Mujtaba without mentioning a reason for the arrest nor presenting an arrest warrant. Sayed Mujtaba was then taken to the special investigations building at the airport, where he was held and interrogated without his lawyer for 10 days. Following that, he was taken to the Central Investigation Department (CID) in Adliya, before being presented to the Public Prosecution on 11 October 2020, with his lawyer present at that time. On that same day, Sayed Mujtaba was transferred to Dry Dock Detention Center. He was only able to call his family for one minute the day after his arrest to inform them that he was at the investigations building. Moreover, upon his transfer to Dry Dock Detention Center, Sayed Mujtaba could not contact his family for five days because his telephone card was not activated.

During the investigation period at the airport, National Security officers severely tortured and mistreated Sayed Mujtaba, both physically and psychologically, in order to extract false confessions to the charges fabricated against him. In fact, Sayed Mujtaba reported that he was stripped of his clothes, was beaten with batons and electrocuted in sensitive areas including his head and genitals, was kicked and hit on his ears, was punched in the abdomen, was held in a cold room, and was threatened with sexual assault. Sayed Mujtaba’s family claims that he was tortured on a political and sectarian basis. Due to poor nutrition and severe beatings and torture, Sayed lost seven kilograms of weight during those 10 days. Moreover, due to the torture he endured, he was coerced to implicate other individuals, including Hasan Meshaimea and Sayed Ahmed Hasan.

Despite being a minor, Sayed Mujtaba was tried in a mass trial under the same court as the rest of the defendants, the Fourth High Criminal Court. However, on 27 November 2021, Sayed Mujtaba had met with two experts sent by the Restorative Justice court who asked him about different aspects of his life including the family’s social and economic status as well as his life and studies. The family also met with the same specialists on 29 November. On 30 November, these specialists submitted a report, based on their meetings with Sayed Mujtaba and his family, to the judge of the Fourth High Criminal Court. Because the content of the report contradicted the pleas raised by the lawyer, the lawyer rejected the report.

 Despite this, all information about the Restorative Justice Court was oral and he was sentenced by the Fourth High Criminal Court. On 12 January 2022, Sayed Mujtaba was sentenced to 3 years in prison and a 100,000-Bahraini-Dinar fine for: 1) joining a terrorist organization for the purpose of disrupting the law or violating rights and freedoms; 2) training to use weapons and explosives intending to commit terrorist crimes; 3) providing, delivering, or receiving funding for an association that practices terrorism; 4) unlicensed manufacturing, acquiring, and possession of explosives for terrorist aims; 5) intentional use of explosive to endanger the lives and money of others; 6) attempting to detonate a bomb by planting an explosive cannister. Because Sayed was not allowed to contact his lawyer, he was not able to adequately prepare for trial. Furthermore, he was not allowed to present evidence and to challenge evidence presented against him in court, in addition to the use of confessions extracted under duress and torture.

On 31 January, the trial session of the Appeals Court took place where the reconsideration of the first judgment issued as submitted by Sayed Mujtaba. Since the lawyer rejected the first report issued by the specialists from the Restorative Justice Court, the court sent two other specialists to draft a new report. They met with the parents and Sayed Mujtaba on 1 February and informed the father that the judge’s report which will be used in the case will be based on their report. It was however postponed to 14 February 2022, because the judge requested a detailed report from a council of experts. On 25 April, 2022 A session was held to appeal the judgment in the Restorative court and the previous sentence of 3 years imprisonment and a 100,000 dinar fine was confirmed.

Due to the poor hygiene conditions in Dry Dock Detention Center, Sayed Mujtaba contracted scabies almost nine months after his transfer to the prison. He was consequently put in medical isolation alone for around three weeks and was given a cream to treat his skin condition. Furthermore, Sayed Mujtaba still suffers from pain in his back as a result of the torture he was subjected to upon arrest; however, he is only given painkillers and has still not received proper medical treatment despite his requests. Sayed Mujtaba has also reported that no strict measures have been implemented inside the prison to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as the prisoners are not provided with any masks or gloves, in addition to the fact that the overall hygiene conditions are inadequate. Despite being allowed to call his family everyday and to video call once a week, to this day, Sayed has not been able to meet his parents due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

On 6 January 2021, Sayed Mujtaba’s family submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding allegations of torture and cruel treatment. Following that, officers from the MoI visited Sayed Mujtaba in Dry Dock Detention Center and asked him about these allegations and the torture methods used against him. On 8 February 2021, his case was transferred to the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) to complete the investigations. Four months later, after not receiving any response from the SIU, Sayed Mujtaba’s parents contacted them and were told that SIU officers would visit the prison.

 Bahraini authorities’ treatment of Sayed Mujtaba, who was a minor at the time of arrest, from his arbitrary deprivation of liberty without a warrant, denial of fair trial and due process rights, severe torture, discrimination, and denial of medical care and education 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), the International Covennant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). An opinion by the Working group on Arbitrary detention also issued an opinion on the case which includes Sayed Mujtaba.

Therefore, ADHRB reiterates the demand of the WG and urges authorities to drop all false and fabricated charges against Sayed Mujtaba and to grant him a trial that respects international judicial and evidentiary standards, namely one that discards the confessions extracted from him under torture and that takes into account his young age and clean record. Finally, ADHRB calls upon Bahraini authorities to urgently investigate allegations of torture and inhumane treatment by investigations officers with a view to holding them accountable, especially considering that Sayed was only 17 years old when these acts allegedly took place.