Torture Allegations Expose Sham Reforms in Bahrain

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SHAFAQNA- Credible and consistent allegations of torture and mistreatment of detainees in Bahrain during 2015 undermined claims of reform, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. The Bahraini government and its allies, chiefly the United Kingdom, have contended that new institutions established by Bahrain are effectively protecting detainees from abuse during interrogation.

Authorities prosecuted rights activists and political opposition figures during 2015 solely for speech-related offenses and subjected them to unfair trials. The government used repressive new legislation to arbitrarily strip dissidents of their Bahraini citizenship, in some cases leaving them stateless.

“Bahraini authorities have failed to stop torture and failed to address the culture of impunity that fosters torture,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “The much-ballyhooed reforms will remain false advertising until Bahrain stops jailing activists and opposition leaders, holds officers accountable for serious abuses like torture, and gets serious about judicial and security service reform.”

Bahrain established new institutions designed to curb the use of torture in response to a report commissioned by the government to examine abuses of protesters during demonstrations in 2011 related to the upheaval throughout the Middle East. But the government is still failing to hold security forces and high officials accountable for torture and serious mistreatment of people in custody.

Since 2011, there has only been one successful prosecution for torture, which resulted in six convictions in a case relating to allegations of drug dealing.

However, there have been no convictions for torture in cases relating to Bahrain’s political unrest, although the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) called for “appropriate prosecution” in torture and mistreatment cases to tackle what it called a “pattern of impunity.”

In June 2015, a court convicted Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of the country’s largest legally recognized opposition political society, Al Wifaq, of speech-related charges and sentenced him to four years in prison.

The presiding judge refused to allow Sheikh Salman’s defense lawyers to present potentially exculpatory evidence, including recordings of the speeches for which he was prosecuted.

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