IV. Civilian Courts: Other National Security Cases
The case against the 23 defendants was not the only national-security case prosecuted in 2010, the year prior to the outbreak of massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain. In the two cases discussed below, security forces coerced defendants into falsely confessing to crimes, and prosecutors appear to have knowingly colluded in securing those confessions.
The Zaitoon Case
On September 23, 2010, the Public Prosecution Office brought terrorism and other charges against Ahmad Ja’far Nasir Juma’a and Hassan Ali Mahdi Ramadan Muhammad in connection with an alleged August 25 assault against Muhanad Abu Zaitoon, the editor of Al-Watan, a pro-government newspaper. Prosecutors alleged that both defendants had assaulted Zaitoon in an unspecified manner, that Juma’a had attacked Zaitoon with a sharp object, and that Juma’a had set Zaitoon’s car on fire.
Even prior to the prosecution’s bringing formal charges, the government had publicly pronounced the two defendants guilty. Five days after the alleged assault, Abd al-Rahman al-Sayed of the attorney general’s office stated that “the Public Prosecution Office interrogated the two at which time they confessed in detail that they had committed the incident and agreed to attack the victim and burn his car.” Al-Sayed said also that prosecutors had taken the defendants to the crime scene where they reenacted the crime and “came to agreement on their admissions.” According to al-Sayed, Juma’a and Muhammad had intended to intimidate Zaitoon into changing his “journalistic opinions.”
The prosecutors’ referral order to the court alleged that “the two defendants confessed to committing the incident during questioning by the Public Prosecution.” Moreover, it said that “forensic photographs of the scene of the incidents confirmed that the defendants committed the crime as is consistent with their confessions during questioning.” The prosecutors appended a CD containing the defendants’ reenactment of the crime.
The prosecution’s case was unexpectedly derailed by Zaitoon, the victim of the alleged assault. On December 12 he testified in court at some length regarding the assault. He described his primary attacker as being approximately six-feet tall with a medium but strong build. At the end of his testimony, Zaitoon was asked if he had anything to add. “I wish to tell the court that this is the first time I have seen the defendants [Juma’a and Muhammad],” he replied. “The body of the defendant I fought with was more filled-out than the defendants here, and the person I fought with is taller than the defendants, about my height.”
On the basis of this testimony, the court released the defendants from custody, although it remanded them to house arrest. In January 2011, the court acquitted the defendants of all charges.
Shortly after their release from jail in mid-December 2010, Juma’a and Muhammad described to Human Rights Watch their arrest and detention. Both men are of below-average height and physique, not resembling the tall man with a strong build described by Zaitoon as his attacker. Muhammad, at the time an unemployed 21 year old, said that security forces came to his house on August 29, 2010, to arrest him. Not finding him, they detained his 15-year-old brother, essentially to hold the brother as a hostage until Muhammad turned himself in. Upon learning of his brother’s detention, Muhammad presented himself at the Isa Town police station in the hope that his brother would be released.
Muhammad told Human Rights Watch that security officers took him to an empty room, blindfolded him, and began questioning him. Each time Muhammad said he did not know the answer to a question, an officer slapped him in the face or on the back. Eventually, Muhammad said, officers took him to a different room with an electrical cable hanging from the ceiling and said they would electrocute him. They told him that he had tried to assassinate Zaitoon and asked for the names of any co-conspirators, specifically mentioning Juma’a. Muhammad denied that he played any role in the incident, but the officers insisted that he had.
Officers then took Muhammad in a car to Juma’a’s house, where they arrested Juma’a, before returning to the police station. There, Muhammad saw his 15-year-old brother still in custody. Muhammad told Human Rights Watch that he was then taken to a room, where his interrogation continued, and he named for Human Rights Watch the lieutenant and captain involved in the interrogation. Officers asked Muhammad how he had beaten Zaitoon and who else had been involved in the attack. Muhammad again denied any involvement.
After a short break, the interrogation resumed with officers slapping Muhammad on the head and back, and punching him in the stomach. Muhammad said he then decided to confess falsely. He told his interrogators that he had beaten Zaitoon. He also said, as directed by interrogators, that Juma’a had burned Zaitoon’s car. The interrogators told him that he had to make the same confession at the Public Prosecution Office.
Muhammad told Human Rights Watch he decided to confess because he was worried about damage that his ear might suffer from beatings, especially because he had had medical issues with one of his ears in the past. He also was concerned that security officers would continue to detain and possibly abuse his younger brother, and that he (Muhammad) would be asked to implicate other people as well. Finally, he told Human Rights Watch that he had been arrested before and in his experience, “If you don’t confess the prosecutor gives you a week’s detention and they torture you until you confess.”
Muhammad said that he was not subjected to any abuse following his confession and that he was taken to the Public Prosecution Office that day. There, he said, a prosecutor told him, “If you don’t confess, I will show something you have never seen in your life.” Muhammad made the same confession to the prosecutor as he had to security officials.
At the time of the incident, Juma’a, then 27, worked for Al Wasat, Bahrain’s only independent newspaper. He told Human Rights Watch that security officers arrested him at his home on August 29, 2010. He said that after they put him in a car, a security officer told him he would be raped. While driving to the Isa Town police station, the car passed the offices of Al Watan, where Zaitoon was the editor. “These are your charges,” one of the officers told Juma’a, pointing at the offices.
Juma’a told Human Rights Watch that at the Isa Town police station, officers took him into a small room, where one of them said, “You should confess to save your dignity and get out of here.” When Juma’a asked to what he should confess, the officer said, “Don’t pretend. You know.” Then one security officer kicked him in the legs, ordering him to talk. Another pulled Juma’a’s shirt over his head and Juma’a felt a blow to his stomach. Officers then moved Juma’a to another room, slapping him on the neck and back as they did.
In the second room, Juma’a said, his interrogators made him stand against a wall and put an object of some sort against his back. One said that he would be given electro-shocks. Juma’a told the interrogators that he would confess. According to Juma’a, he decided to confess falsely because “sooner or later they will get what they want, so it’s better to confess before they break everything.”
An interrogator then described to Juma’a how the attack on Zaitoon allegedly transpired, saying that Juma’a should confess to assaulting Zaitoon and that Muhammad had burned Zaitoon’s car. Juma’a indicated his assent to each piece of information. Then he was presented with a statement that he signed without reading.
That evening officers took Juma’a to the Public Prosecution Office, where one said, “Repeat what you told us or you will spend the night with the National Security Apparatus. Nothing has happened to you yet, but you will see real things if you don’t confess.” A prosecutor asked Juma’a questions evidently based on the statement Juma’a had signed. At one point, the prosecutor asked what Zaitoon had been wearing at the time of the attack. Juma’a guessed that it was a business suit and the prosecutor corrected him, saying it was a T-shirt. Similarly, Juma’a guessed incorrectly when the prosecutor asked for the color of Zaitoon’s car, prompting the prosecutor to supply the correct information.
Juma’a told Human Rights Watch that the prosecutor and security officers then took him and Muhammad to the crime scene for a reenactment before a video camera. When Juma’a and Muhammad were asked where Zaitoon’s car had been parked, they had to plead ignorance, and a security officer pointed out the location. At one point, a prosecutor gave Muhammad a pen to demonstrate how he, Muhammad, had attacked Zaitoon. This surprised Juma’a, who had been told that he had attacked Zaitoon and had already so confessed.
The “Passport” Case
In September 2010, prosecutors charged Husain Ali Salman with participating in an illegal and violent assembly on August 8, 2010. In the same charging instrument, prosecutors alleged that Muhammad Hassan Mushaima, the son of Hassan Mushaima, a prominent opposition figure, had participated with Salman in the August 8 unrest by providing “slingshots for use in the assembly and rioting.” Prosecutors also charged the two with possessing and transmitting images “liable to harm the reputation of the Kingdom of Bahrain,” and Mushaima with possessing an axe “without a license from the competent authorities.”
According to the minutes of Salman’s interrogation by prosecutors, he confessed to engaging in the illegal assembly on August 8, aided by Mushaima. For his part, Mushaima confessed to having been involved in sending photographs of incidents in Bahrain to his father, who was then in London. In court, the defendants alleged that they had given their statements as a result of duress. Nonetheless, the court relied largely on these statements in finding both defendants guilty and sentencing them each to one year in prison.
This conviction was notable because the passport of Mushaima showed definitively that he had left Bahrain for the United Kingdom on June 29, 2010, and had not returned to Bahrain until August 20, nearly two weeks after he allegedly aided the August 8 assembly. The passport had been presented to the court, but evidently this submission did not affect the court’s verdict. Similarly, it appears that the court made no attempt to reconcile that Salman had “confessed” to being aided by Mushaima on a date when Mushaima was thousands of miles away.
Referral Order, Public Prosecution Case No. 1009/2010, September 23, 2010.
 “Public Prosecutor: The Two Charged with Assaulting Abu Zaitoon Confessed,” Manama Voice, August 30, 2010, http://manamavoice.com/news-news_read-4665-0.html (accessed February 16, 2012).
 Referral Order, Public Prosecution Case No. 1009/2010, September 23, 2010. Other evidence submitted by the prosecution included Zaitoon’s testimony regarding the attack, including his supposition that he had been assaulted due to “Al-Watan’s counterterrorism editorial policy.” The prosecutors also cited a Ministry of Interior lieutenant as saying that “confirmed, trustworthy confidential sources indicated … that the two defendants committed the incident, targeting the victim due to his policy against acts of sabotage and terrorism.”
 Court Minutes, Case No. 07/2010/8229, December 12, 2010.
Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan Ali Mahdi Ramadan Mohammed, Manama, December 21, 2010.
Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Ja’far Nasir Juma’a, Manama, December 22, 2010.
 Public Prosecution Office, untitled charging instrument against Muhammad Hassan Mushaima and Husain Ali Salman, September 22, 2010.
Public Prosecution Office, untitled minutes of interrogation of Husain Ali Salman; Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Tajer, Manama, December 21, 2010.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed al-Tajer, Manama, December 21, 2010.
 Court Minutes, Case No. 8481/2010/7, October 11, 2010; Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad al-Tajer, Manama, December 21, 2010.
Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed al-Tajer, Manama, December 21, 2010.
The passport with visa stamps is on file with Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed al-Tajer, Manama, December 21, 2010.