Young convicts in the Dry Dock: ongoing violations and delayed justice

On 17 September 2023, approximately 28 young Bahraini detainees in the Dry Dock Detention Center began a new hunger strike in protest against the continued violations committed against them by the prison administration, and the neglect of the relevant state institutions to carry out their duties, notably the National Institution for Human Rights, and the Ombudsman.

The rights of children detained in the Dry Dock Detention Center are subject to serious violations, as most of the arrests are based on political backgrounds, and the victims are subjected to unfair trials. In 2011, the state security institutions launched a series of arbitrary arrest campaigns that affected various Bahraini regions and towns and included citizens of different age groups, including children who were not over the legal age at the time of their arrest, for participating in peaceful demonstrations in the movement demanding reform and democracy. Since that date, the scene has been repeated as part of the policies of suppressing freedom and encouraging impunity in Bahrain.

Due to the lack of transparency in the Ministry of Interior’s data, there are no accurate statistics on the number of detained children. However, investigative reports have previously revealed that Bahrain detains about 150 children, 10 of whom are in Jau Prison – which is designated for adults – while the remaining 140 are divided into two wards. One ward is designated for children aged between 15 and 18 years old, and the other is designated for solitary confinement. Despite these reports, the Bahraini government claims that it has no children in detention, stating instead that those arrested from the age group of 15 to 18 years are serving their sentence in a private reform center.

Young convicts in the Dry Dock Detention Center are exposed to many human rights violations, including fundamental rights guaranteed by international laws and conventions. Their most prominent demands relate to the following:

– The right to education;

– The right to medical treatment;

– The right to obtain diverse and healthy diets;

– The right to communicate with the outside world;

– The right to family visits;

– The right to have appropriate clothing; and

– The right to benefit from the Law on Restorative Justice and the Protection of Children from Mistreatment.

The Law on Restorative Justice for Children and their Protection from Mistreatment was approved on 15 February 2021 and came into effect on 18 August 2021. However, its effects were not reflected on the conditions of young convicts in the Dry Dock Detention Center, nor on those who were arrested after the enactment of this law. These include:

  •       notifying the child’s guardian or person responsible for him – as the case may be – in the legally prescribed ways of every decision or action taken against the child;
  •       ensuring that detained children are treated without discrimination and with an equal degree of decent and humane treatment and ensuring that all necessary rights and needs are met, and that there is no criminal liability on the child who was not more than fifteen full calendar years of age at the time of committing the crime;
  •       that the child victim or witness, in all stages of investigation and trial, must have the right to be heard, his demands must be understood, and he must be treated in a way that preserves his dignity and guarantees his physical, psychological, and moral integrity;
  •       that there be no discrimination between child prisoners on the basis of gender, origin, language, religion, or belief;
  •       The periodic medical examination of all children;
  •       The provision of academic and practical study curricula helping develop their intellectual abilities;
  •       the observation of the child’s right to freedom of practice of religion; and
  •       that, in the event that a child was subjected to physical or sexual mistreatment by the person responsible for him, the specialized prosecution should appoint someone to legally represent the child to carry out all the procedures stipulated in the law, including submitting a complaint, objection, grievance, and appeal against all procedures taken regarding the child.

Since its passage, this law has been subjected to numerous criticisms, as the government of Bahrain exploits its promulgation to promote the reforms that it has carried out. Unfortunately, its application is still limited to a very small number of young convicts in the Dry Dock Detention Center, despite the fact that many of them meet the conditions of the law and almost all of them demand the right to benefit from it.

As well, the law fails to guarantee children’s fundamental rights to due process. The law does not prohibit questioning or interrogating children without the presence of a lawyer or their guardians. Article 66 states that “health, social, legal and rehabilitative services must be provided to accused children” at “all stages”, including during “arrest and investigation.” However, Article 67 stipulates that a child has no right to a lawyer until after the child’s case reaches trial. The law also fails to clearly stipulate the child’s right to appeal his deprivation of liberty, while Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child in conflict with the law has the right to “immediate access to legal assistance.”

International human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have previously condemned the failure of this law to protect the fundamental rights stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as it legitimizes arbitrary detention on charges of exercising the right to peaceful assembly, and allows the interrogation and investigation of children without the presence of their parents or attorney.

The prison for young convicts fails to uphold the most fundamental rights, and detainees on charges related to the right to expression are subjected to ill-treatment, torture, and reprisal. They are deprived of healthy meals and clothing, are denied family visits, and are denied means of entertainment, which exposes them to psychological and health risks and harms, and which is inconsistent with human and moral principles and values.

As a result of all of this mistreatment, many of the children have undertaken repeated hunger strikes, despite the dangers that such actions pose to their health. Recently, they announced their hunger strike on 17 September 2023, in protest against the Public Prosecution’s neglect of their right to benefit from the Law on Restorative Justice as a means that may help them get escape these violations. Among them is Hussein Ahmed Habib, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison; he was less than 16 years old at the time his alleged offense was committed. He submitted more than five requests to more than one public prosecutor representative, demanding his retrial before the Children’s Court, but to no avail. Also, Mujtaba Abdul Hussein Abdulla, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison when he was 17 years old, is demanding his retrial before the Children’s Court, but the public prosecution rejects his repeated requests.

Instead of children being behind their school desks, they are deprived of the right to education. This violation does not stop there – it destroys their future even after the end of their sentence, as they are deprived of job opportunities due to the denial of “good conduct” certificates for political prisoners.

Among them is Ali Isa Jasim, one of the young convicts who was deprived of his fundamental rights, after he was arrested when he was fifteen years old. He went on two hunger strikes in one month, protesting the denial of his right to education. Despite the promises he has received from the prison administration to provide him with an education, he has yet to be given access to learning resources. His suffering is shared by Khalil Ebrahim Sabah, who resorted to a hunger strike to protest the deprivation of his fundamental rights, including education, for two years. They are therefore waiting to be transferred to Jau Prison to obtain this right.

In addition to the torture, forced disappearance, solitary confinement, and psychological threats they endure, many child detainees also face deprivation of the necessary treatment and medical care. They are denied medical visits, and the prison administration ignores the conditions of those suffering from illnesses and in need of constant follow-up. On 17 June 2023, six young convicts, including Khalil Sabah and Fares Salman, declared a hunger strike to protest against their deprivation of health care for their scabies disease, which they contracted while in prison due to squalid conditions. Further, Haidar Ebrahim Mulla Hasan, who was arrested at the age of 16 and sentenced to 23 years in prison in three different cases, did not suffer from any health problems before his arrest, but as a result of torture and the dire conditions in prison, including medical neglect, he began to suffer from severe stomach pains to the point of vomiting and defecating blood. He continues to suffer from severe headaches, difficulty breathing, and a dental problem. Despite this, the prison administration refuses to refer him to a doctor for a diagnosis of his condition, and he has not received any treatment yet. In fact, the last time he was presented to a doctor was over a year ago.

Following the crackdown on popular protests that the country witnessed in 2011, criticism prompted Bahrain to establish three bodies affiliated with the Ministry of Interior: the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), the Ombudsman, and the Special Investigation Unit in the Public Prosecution, but the lack of independence of these bodies and their political affiliations has rendered them unfit for purpose. Since their establishment, complaints raised by detainees, especially young convicts, have not been investigated, and the security forces responsible for torturing political prisoners have not been held accountable.

By exposing young convicts to violations, including forced detention, torture, denial of medical care, and of the right to education, Bahrain is violating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Nelson Mandela Rules, which stress the rights of Prisoners, including:

  •       Treat all prisoners with respect because of their inherent dignity and value as human beings.
  •       The prohibition of subjecting any prisoner to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and all prisoners should be protected from this.
  •       The right to obtain legal representation and to investigate all cases of death in custody, disciplinary action, and punishment.
  •       The prison system should strive to minimize the differences between prison life and free life.

Hence, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on the Bahraini authorities to:

  •       Stop exposing young convicts to ongoing violations, including forced detention and torture.
  •       Grant young convicts their right to education, medical care, and other fundamental human rights.
  •       Protect minors from ill-treatment, investigate allegations of torture, and stop the policy of impunity that has been practiced until now.
  •       Respond to the demands of young people, and not renounce the promises made to them.
  •       Held them a retrial in accordance with the fair trial procedures that apply to children in order to obtain their immediate and unconditional release, guarantee all their civil rights, and compensate them.