Profile in Persecution: Murtadha Abdali Khatam

Murtadha Abdali Khatam is a 21-year-old Bahraini who was warrantlessly arrested in 2015, subjected to multiple human rights violations – including torture and unfair trial – and charged in multiple cases. He is currently serving his sentence at Jau Prison.

Murtadha and his twin brother, Muntadhar, who is also currently detained, were arrested so they would confess the location of their older brother Mohamad. Mohamed was  wanted at the time for his participation in peaceful protests, and faced similar charges to those of his brother, Murtadha.

Murtadha was still a school student when he was arrested twice consecutively in 2012 and 2013. He was only 17 years old at the time, and was forced to drop out of school fearing that he would be pursued and prosecuted. In 2012, security forces arrested him from a road near his home for participating in demonstrations. They took him to an unknown location where he was severely beaten. He was then taken to Isa Town police station, then to the Criminal Investigation Department, and finally to a detention center where he remained for over three months. He was released without any sentence. In 2013, Murtadha was arrested again during a peaceful demonstration in Sitra, during which he was hit directly in the face by a stun grenade. He lost two of his teeth and his face was swollen. He was taken by an ambulance to the hospital, where he got three stitches on the inside and the outside of his mouth. He called his mother two weeks after the arrest. The call lasted two minutes, but she was unable to understand what he was saying because he couldn’t speak properly due to the swelling in his face. Murtadha was released on 5 July 2013 without any sentence.

On 5 April 2015, Murtadha went out with his friends and twin brother Muntadhar to buy dinner when security cars surrounded them. They escaped without knowing where they were going, but security officers and riot police pursued them and arrested them near his grandfather’s house. When Murtadha’s mother heard about the pursuit, she went to the place where Murtadha, his brother Muntadhar, and his friends were surrounded, along with some mothers of her son’s friends who were with him. The mothers tried to stop the security forces from arresting their children for several hours. Their attempts failed and the youths were arrested without an arrest warrant.  As the security officers left, they continued to throw sound bombs and tear gas to disperse the mothers so they would leave. Later, the family received a summons requesting Murtadha to appear before the Public Prosecution Office, without stating any reason, even though he was imprisoned at the time. They also learned that he was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison for illegal assembly.

Murtadha called his mother the same day he arrived at the CID and informed her of his location. During the investigation, he was severely beaten and threatened with electrocution and sexual assault if he does not confess to his charges. Officers questioned him about the whereabouts of his brother Mohamed, who was a fugitive at the time. His interrogation and torture lasted for days without the presence of his lawyer before he was transferred to Dry Dock detention center. He was able to meet his family two weeks after his transfer and he told them about the torture and threats he received in order to confess.

He was charged and was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison in two different cases of illegal assembly, one year for each; five years in a case of fake explosives which was reduced to three years after appeal; five years for assaulting security personnels; three years for burning tires; and six months for insulting a judge. The total of his sentences was 15 years and 6 months, which was reduced to 13 years and 6 months after appeal.

During his imprisonment, Murtadha suffered from various violations. His visits were gradually reduced from weekly visits at the beginning of his arrest to bi-weekly visits, and eventually, he only had one visit every month. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been no visits due to the strict restrictions, in addition to Murtadha’s refusal to let his family suffer the humiliating inspections and treatment by authorities, including making them wait in long lines in the sun for long hours. On 5 April 2021, the prisoners in Building 12 and 13 started a sit-in to protest the poor prison conditions after the death of prisoner Abbas Mallallah due to medical negligence and lack of care after the COVID outbreak. On 17 April 2021, prison police forces attacked prisoners in buildings 12 and 13 to break up the sit-in, using excessive force and attacking prisoners with clubs in what became known as Bloody Saturday. Murtadha was hit on his head and suffered from swelling afterwards. After the attack, 34 prisoners, including Murtadha, were transferred to an unknown destination.

Murtadha’s warrantless arrest, torture and unfair trial go against the Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which Bahrain is party to. As such, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the Bahraini authorities respect its human rights obligations and immediately release Murtadha, who was denied a fair trial and due process rights and to investigate the allegations of torture and ill treatment in prison in order to hold the perpetrators accountable.