The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted an opinion on 30 August 2023 during its 97th session concerning six Bahrainis, one of whom was a minor at the time of the arrest. These Bahrainis were arbitrarily arrested and subjected to gruesome human rights violations. Given the severity of the torture inflicted upon the six individuals, the Working Group found that their detention was arbitrary under Categories I (when it is impossible to invoke a legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty), III (when violations of the right to a fair trial are so severe that the detention is rendered arbitrary), and V (when the detention is discriminatory based on birth, national, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, economic condition, political or other opinions, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other status).
The WGAD notes that the complaint submitted by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) highlights a recurring pattern of violations, consistent with those raised in other complaints. These violations encompass “warrantless, pretrial detention with limited access to judicial review, denial of access to lawyers, forced confession, torture and ill-treatment, and denial of medical care.” Consequently, the Working Group emphasizes that Bahrain should address these severe violations related to the deprivation of liberty by immediately and urgently releasing all six prisoners.
Furthermore, the WGAD calls for a comprehensive and impartial investigation to hold accountable those responsible for the violations, particularly those involved in acts of torture. The Working Group has also forwarded this complaint to two other UN Special Procedure offices: the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. Additionally, the WGAD welcomes the opportunity to conduct a country visit to further assess the situation.
ADHRB welcomes and wishes to express its utmost support for the present opinion and reiterates the WGAD’s call to release the six prisoners immediately.
The WGAD is one of the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. As part of its regular procedures, the Working Group sends allegation letters to governments concerning credible cases of arbitrary detentions. The Working Group may also render opinions on whether an individual or group’s detention is arbitrary and in violation of international law. The WGAD reviews cases under five categories of arbitrary detention: when it is impossible to invoke a legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty (Category I); when the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights to equal protection of the law, freedom of thought, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of assembly, among others (Category II); when violations of the right to a fair trial are so severe that the detention is rendered arbitrary (Category III); prolonged administrative custody for refugees and asylum seekers (Category IV); and when the detention is discriminatory based on birth, national, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, economic condition, political or other opinions, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other status (Category V).
In the present Opinion, No. 47/2023, adopted by the Working Group during its 96th session, the WGAD found all six prisoners, Abduljabbar Isa Abdulla Hasan Mohamed, Fadhel Abbas Abdulla Hasan Mohamed, Ahmed Abdulla Marhoon Rashed, Hasan Ali Abdulla Rashed Ahmed Rashed, Mohamed Abduljabbar Mansoor Ali Husaini Sarhan and Faris Husain Habib Ahmed Salman were arbitrarily detained under Categories I (lacking a legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty) and III (their detention is arbitrary due to the unfair nature of their trial). Additionally, the Working Group concluded that Abduljabbar Isa Mohamed was arbitrarily detained under category V, as he faced sectarian insults during his interrogation.
All six individuals were arrested without a warrant, and disturbingly, two of them experienced violent arrests. Hasan Rashed was reportedly beaten and threatened with rape and electrocution while in the detention bus following his arrest. Similarly, Fadhel Mohamed endured physical assault in the detention bus, leading to a fall that resulted in a hand injury. Furthermore, Ahmed Rashed faced enforced disappearance for the initial two weeks after his arrest.
Additionally, all individuals were subjected to severe forms of torture, including physical beating, sexual assault, rape, forced nudity in cold conditions, verbal harassment, threats of arresting and torturing family members, threats of electrocution, rape, sexual assault, and death. They were also denied communication with their relatives, legal counsel, and fair trial procedures.
It is crucial to highlight that one individual, Hasan Rashed, was a minor at the time of his arrest and experienced severe violations, including torture and denial of legal counsel or guardian. The Working Group considered this a breach of Article 37 (a) and (c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention against Torture (CAT).
The Working Group asserts that the Bahraini government failed to respond to the claims that all six individuals were warrantlessly arrested and were not informed of the reason for the arrest. Consequently, the legal basis for the arrests was not invoked. Moreover, the six individuals were not promptly brought before a judge as required.
The WGAD emphasizes that individuals should be presented before a judge within 48 hours, with any delay deemed exceptional and justifiable under the circumstances. Since none of the individuals were brought within this stipulated time frame, authorities have violated Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Notably, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) specifies that children should be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, a requirement not met in the case of the minor Hasan Rashed.
Based on these findings, the Working Group concluded that the detention of all six individuals is arbitrary under Category I due to the absence of a legal basis.
The Working Group points out that ADHRB established that all six individuals were denied their right to a fair trial due to violations related to their access to legal counsel from the time of their arrest and during their interrogations. The government claimed that four of them, Abduljabbar Mohamed, Fadhel Mohamed, Ahmed Rashed, and Hasan Rashed, were asked if they had a lawyer, and they reportedly responded in the negative. The Working Group notes that ADHRB reiterated that they were subsequently interrogated without legal representation. Concerning Mohamed Sarhan, the government informed the Working Group of the presence of a lawyer during interrogation and trial but did not address the fact that Sarhan did not have access to his lawyer during the entire 10-day interrogation period. As a result, the Working Group indicates that all six individuals were not afforded the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, violating Article 14 of the ICCPR. It also indicates that the minor Hasan Rashed was denied his right to access legal assistance for his defense under the CRC, and was interrogated without the presence of a guardian despite being a minor.
The Working Group further highlights that ADHRB provided detailed descriptions of severe physical and psychological torture allegedly inflicted upon the individuals to extract confessions. It also indicates that ADHRB mentioned that the confessions obtained through torture were used against all six individuals in their trial. The government argues that none of the individuals alleged torture or ill-treatment and that no relevant injuries were found on all of them when presented to a forensic pathologist. In response, the Working Group cites ADHRB’s information that one victim, Abduljabbar Mohamed, was presented to the forensic pathologist 10 days after his subjection to torture, and by then, all traces of the torture had disappeared. Moreover, complaints submitted by families to the Ombudsman and the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) have not received any response. Only one of these torture claims was investigated by authorities in the case of Mohamed Sarhan. The Working Group mentioned ADHRB’s information that after Sarhan’s lawyer requested an urgent investigation into his defendant’s torture, representatives of the SIU met with him. However, they sent him a forensic pathologist who came on the same day to check on him without examination tools, only taking photographs with his phone. Additionally, the family has yet to receive a letter or response on this matter.
The Working Group reiterated its concern regarding the effectiveness of the SIU, indicating that the Ombudsman and the SIU are not independent, “had little or no effect”, and that the government had provided negligible information regarding the outcome of the activities of the Ombudsman and the SIU. The Working Group concludes that ADHRB has presented a credible prima facie case of physical and psychological torture and ill-treatment, violating human rights declarations and conventions. The Working Group concludes that Bahraini authorities have violated Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 7 of the ICCPR, and Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention against Torture (CAT). Additionally, it notes violations of Article 37 (a) and (c) of the CRC in the cases of the minor Hasan Rashed, highlighting the Committee against Torture’s repeated expressions of concern about reports of torture of minors at the time of arrest and the detention of minors in Bahrain.
Since all six individuals were compelled to confess under torture and subsequently convicted based on these coerced confessions, the Working Group emphasizes that “the admission into evidence of a statement obtained through torture renders the entire proceedings unfair.” This use of torture to extract confessions is a violation of Articles 2, 15, and 16 of the Convention against Torture (CAT). Additionally, the WGAD found that the government violated the victims’ right to be presumed innocent under Article 14 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and their right not to be compelled to confess guilt under Article 14 (3) (g) of the Covenant.
The WGAD also underscores that “self-incriminating confessions are amplified when the victim is a child,” specifically referring to the case of Hasan Rashed. The Working Group highlights the right of a detained child to be presumed innocent under Article 40 (2) (b) (i) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the right not to be compelled to confess guilt under Article 40 (2) (b) (iv) of the CRC. It notes that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly expressed concern about the arbitrary detention of children, their ill-treatment by police officers and in detention centers, and the use of torture by law enforcement officials to extract confessions from detained children in Bahrain.
Referring to the information provided by ADHRB concerning injuries resulting from torture, health issues related to detention conditions, and insufficient access to healthcare, the Working Group underscores that the denial of medical care can amount to a form of torture. Consequently, the Working Group determined that the violations associated with the conditions of detention for the six individuals significantly impeded their ability to properly defend themselves.
Additionally, the Working Group notes that the Bahraini Government did not address the information presented by ADHRB regarding the sentencing of some of these individuals in absentia. Consequently, the Working Group expresses concern about the reported length of the sentences imposed in absentia.
As a result, the Working Group concludes that the rights to a fair trial and due process rights of the six individuals were violated, rendering their detention arbitrary under category III.
The Working Group notes that ADHRB provided evidence that Abduljabbar Mohamed experienced sectarian insults during his interrogation, indicating the sectarian nature of his targeting. This revelation leads to the conclusion that his detention is arbitrary under Category V.
Given the facts presented, the Working Group expresses its concern regarding the torture the six individuals were subjected to and the ongoing impact of the injuries suffered by them as a result. In doing so, it reminds the Government of its obligations under Article 10 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and rules 1, 24, 27, and 118 of the Nelson Mandela Rules.
The WGAD notes that this case follows a pattern similar to many others from Bahrain that have been brought before it. These patterns involve warrantless arrests, pretrial detention with limited access to judicial review, denial of attorney access, forced confessions, torture, ill-treatment, and denial of medical care. The Working Group emphasizes that “under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.”
In light of these concerns, the WGAD urges the Bahraini government to ensure a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the cases of these six individuals. Furthermore, it calls for appropriate measures to be taken against those responsible for the violation of their rights. The Working Group concludes by reiterating its readiness to conduct a country visit, noting that its last visit was in October 2001.
“This latest opinion from the Working Group confirms what we’ve known all along: the Bahraini government is a state sponsor of torture,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s Executive Director. He added that “Bahrain is a strong ally of many Western governments – including the United States and the United Kingdom, with the US itself only having recently signed a new deal to preserve and strengthen its relationship with the island Kingdom. This comes despite President Biden having made multiple public statements about the importance of human rights during his campaign for the presidency in 2020”. Abdulla considered that “Bahrain’s allies, including the Biden Administration, find themselves at a crossroads: stay the course and accept torture as an acceptable practice form an ally, or publicly rebuke and repudiate Bahrain and maintain their humanity.”
ADHRB firmly supports and stands behind the WGAD’s opinion and recommendation. ADHRB reiterates its call for the immediate release of all six individuals and urges that they be provided with suitable compensation in accordance with international law. ADHRB also echoes the Working Group’s demands for a comprehensive and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of the six victims. Furthermore, ADHRB calls for appropriate measures to be taken against those responsible for the violation of their rights.