His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Office of His Majesty the King
Kingdom of Bahrain
Human Rights Watch is writing to you today to express our grave concern about persistent reports of torture of recently detained security suspects and threats against Bahrain's community of human rights activists, in particular the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
With regard to threats against the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), we were dismayed to see that the September 1 edition of the pro-government Bahraini daily Al Watan featured a lead article alleging that Nabeel Rajab and Abd al-Hadi Khawaja, the president and former president respectively of the BCHR, are linked to a "terrorist network" that the newspaper alleged had been responsible for attacking persons and property in Bahrain as well as plotting to carry out sabotage in the country. Accompanying this article, both on the front page and inside pages of Al Watan, is a graphic display with their photos as well as photos of other alleged participants in this network. The article further accuses Rajab and Khawaja of providing "false information" to "international organizations" to prompt interventions that harm Bahrain's reputation - an evident reference to human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.
This crude and unfounded attack on Rajab and Khawaja is particularly distressing in light of information we have received about interrogations of some of the persons recently arrested in connection with this alleged network. According to persons with first-hand knowledge of the interrogations, questions posed by the attorney general and other prosecutors focused on the alleged ties of some of these detainees to the BCHR as well as to Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups, rather than their alleged links to perpetrators of violence in Bahrain, the ostensible official concern for the arrests in the first place.
The Al Watan allegations also appear despite an order from the Public Prosecution Office barring any discussion in any media of matters relating to the current arrests and official investigations, suggesting that Al Watan published them with the express approval if not active collaboration of high-level government officials.
This focus on the contacts of these human rights activists and alleged contacts of security suspects with "international organizations" and Human Rights Watch comes at a time when Human Rights Watch has had extensive and continuing discussions with the highest-ranking officials in the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs, as well as the Attorney General's office.
We have already spoken out publicly regarding other concerns about the recent arrests and interrogations. We are particularly disturbed by persistent and credible allegations that many of the persons being questioned over the past several weeks have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention, in some cases at least for the evident purpose of coercing confessions. As you may be aware, in February 2010 Human Rights Watch released a report regarding the revival of torture of security suspects in the 2007 - 2009 period. In our meetings at that time with His Excellency Lt Gen Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa and other officials, we were assured that the government does not tolerate such practices, that they are not systematic or a matter of policy, and that anyone found responsible for perpetrating such acts would be held accountable. Unfortunately, we have never received a long-promised detailed official response to our findings of torture documented in that report, and we are not aware of any investigations or disciplinary steps taken with regard to the alleged perpetrators of those practices. In light of this, we are alarmed by these new reports of torture and urge you to order the immediate halt of such practices and to commission an independent investigation into these allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
We are also concerned by the fact that many of these arrests appear to be linked to public criticisms of policies of your government rather than acts of violence or incitement to violence. We draw this conclusion from several factors: (1) the initial arrests featured individuals who had recently participated in a public event in London in which they voiced such criticisms; (2) the aforementioned focus of interrogations on the contacts that the suspects allegedly had with Bahraini and international human rights organizations; (3) charges and accusations against at least some of these individuals that include "inciting hatred and contempt against the regime" and "contacting and working with international organizations."
Your Majesty, Human Rights Watch has consistently upheld the right and responsibility of any state, expressly including Bahrain, to protect persons and property from violent attacks and to maintain public order. Under your leadership, Bahrain has become a state party to numerous international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, that obligate your government to fulfill this responsibility in a manner that protects fundamental human rights, These include the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment under any circumstances, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, and the right to freedom of expression and to exchange information. Also under your leadership, Bahrain took concrete steps a decade ago to end the routine violation of these and other rights, steps that Human Rights Watch publicly applauded on numerous occasions.
It is with regret, therefore, that we address to you this letter, which is prompted by what appears to be an unbridled return to practices that routinely violate basic human rights. We urge you to once again take the lead in bringing these practices to an immediate halt and re-committing Bahrain to a path of respect for and protection of the human rights of all Bahrainis.
Middle East and North Africa Division