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Letter to HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain

HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Office of HM the King
P.O. Box 555
Rifa’a Palace
Kingdom of Bahrain

Your Majesty,

We are writing you to with regard to the urgent matter of Adil Jassim Flaifil, formerly a colonel in the Security and Intelligence Service of Bahrain. We urge your government to undertake to conduct a full and impartial investigation into allegations that Col. Flaifil engaged routinely in the torture and ill-treatment of persons taken into custody by the security services over a period of many years. These allegations concern crimes of utmost gravity, and on the basis of research that we conducted we believe the allegations are sufficiently credible as to require such a step.

Human Rights Watch has publicly welcomed many of the reforms that Your Majesty has decreed over the past several years, in particular the abolition of the State Security Law of 1976 and the State Security Courts, the release of prisoners convicted under that law and by that court following trials that failed to meet international fair trial standards, and the return of Bahraini citizens who had been forcibly exiled.

However, we are concerned that your government has failed to act consistent with its obligation, under Bahrain’s constitution and as a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to investigate, and if appropriate prosecute and punish, officials against whom there are credible allegations of torture.

Col. Flaifil apparently fled Bahrain in early May 2002, shortly before he was to testify before a panel investigating charges of fraud and embezzlement that had been made against him. He returned to Bahrain on or about November 23, from Australia. According to news reports, his passport has been confiscated so as to prevent him from traveling abroad while the investigation on fraud charges proceeds.

Human Rights Watch takes no position on the fraud and embezzlement charges lodged against Col. Flaifil. We are disturbed, however, that the government has so far failed to take steps to investigate the serious and credible allegations of Bahraini citizens naming Col. Flaifil as the person responsible for authorizing and carrying out acts of torture against them personally.

The government has long been aware of these allegations. Human Rights Watch conducted an investigation during 1996 and 1997 into allegations of torture in Bahrain in the course of preparing a comprehensive report on Bahraini human rights practices. This report, Routine Abuse, Routine Denial: Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain, published in June 1997, was made available to numerous officials of the government at the time. Many former prisoners whom we interviewed for this report alleged that they had been tortured while in the custody of the SIS, and several cited Col. Flaifil by name as one of the perpetrators.

Since Col. Flaifil returned to Bahrain several weeks ago, there have been numerous peaceful demonstrations calling on the government to conduct a criminal investigation into these allegations. Twelve members of Bahrain’s newly-elected National Assembly, including members considered to be supporters of the government, are reportedly among the many Bahrainis who have called publicly for his prosecution on torture charges.

On December 11, lawyers for eight Bahrainis—Fakhri Abdallah Rashid Khalil, Mirza Ibrahim al-Qatari, Ali Salman Isa Ahmad, Sami Abdallah Hassan Abu Hamad, Ahmad Mahdi Salman Daoud, Majeed Milad Ahmad al-Jazeeri, Hussain Ali Muhsin al-Tittan, and Ra’id Salman Abdallah al-Khawaja—attempted to file a complaint with the office of the general prosecutor in the Ministry of Interior. These complaints, copies of which have been provided to Human Rights Watch, set out the circumstances of their incarceration. For example, Mirza Ibrahim al-Qatari, a fruit merchant, was detained on April 24, 1996 for alleged possession of illegal printed materials and a possible weapons violation. He was held without trial for more than a year before being convicted on June 14, 1997 by a State Security Court and released two weeks later. Majeed Milad Ahmad al-Jazeeri, arrested on December 18, 1994, spent three and a half years in detention, most of that time without trial, on charges that he was a member of an unlicensed organization and incited demonstrations calling for the reinstatement of Bahrain’s parliament. Both reported that they were, among other things, suspended for extended periods and beaten on the soles of their feet, subjected to objects inserted into the anus, not permitted for long periods to sleep, and threatened with rape of themselves or of their wives or family members. Others asserted that they had been kicked in the genitals and not permitted to urinate or defecate. All eight named Col. Flaifil as one of the persons responsible for authorizing, supervising and perpetrating these and other acts of torture and ill-treatment.

According to a report in the independent Bahraini daily Al-Wasat on December 13, 2002, the lawyers who attempted to present the complaints to the general prosecutor’s office were told by the head of the legal affairs bureau, Ali Fadl al-Bua’nain that “it is not an investigatory arm” and that individual complaints should be directed to the criminal investigations department. After leaving the general prosecutor’s office, the head of legal affairs phoned to invite the lawyers to return to meet with his superior, Col. Muhammad Rashid Abu Hamud, the general prosecutor. According to information Human Rights Watch has received, Col. Abu Hamud told the lawyers that they would be wasting their time to attempt to file such a complaint with the investigations directorate, and refused to provide a signed acknowledgement of receipt of the complaint. The general prosecutor reportedly claimed that he was not obliged by law to do so and that Decree 56/2002, which Your Majesty issued on October 23, 2002, in effect extended Decree 10/2001, the general amnesty of February 2001, to cover human rights violations committed by government and security officials as well as offences by political opponents of the government.

We strongly urge your government to clarify that it does not intend to use Decree 56/2002 for the purpose of immunizing against prosecution persons alleged to have committed serious crimes such as torture. Such use of your amnesty powers would be highly inconsistent with reforms you have proclaimed, such as abolition of the State Security Court, as well as with Article 3/19 of Bahrain’s constitution, which states that “no individual should be subject to physical or psychological torture, or assault, or degrading treatment, and the law is to punish those who perpetrate it.” Article 208 of Bahrain’s Penal Code states that “employees of the state are to be punished if they employ torture, violence, force or the threat thereof, directly or indirectly with any accused, witness or expert to coerce them into admission of a crime or relinquishing information about a crime.”

Such use of Decree 56/2002, furthermore, is inconsistent with Bahrain’s obligation as a State Party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Among the requirements of the convention are that each State Party ensure that: · “all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law” and that such offences are “punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature” (Article 4); · “its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction” (Article 12); and · “any individual who alleges that he has been subjected to torture…has the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities” (Article 13).

Human Rights Watch believes that the consistency and seriousness of these allegations warrants urgent attention by the authorities. We therefore urge you to clarify publicly that Decree 56/2002 and the general amnesty of February 2001 do not apply to grave crimes such as torture.

We further urge the government to respond positively to requests by many Bahrainis to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the charges against Col. Flaifil and the fifteen other officials named in the complaint of December 11, and that this investigation includes the testimonies of Bahrainis who allege that they were victims of torture committed by and under the authority of Col. Flaifil. The results of the investigation should be made public. If warranted by the findings, the government should prosecute Col. Flaifil and other officials as appropriate on charges of torture and ill-treatment, in trials that meet international due process standards. If Col. Flaifil and/or other officials are found guilty of these charges, the government should provide a punishment commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes committed.

Sincerely,

Hanny Megally Executive director, Middle East and North Africa division

cc: HE Khalifa bin Ali Khalifa, ambassador of Bahrain to the United States

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