(Manama) - Arbitrary detention appears rampant under Bahrain's state of emergency, with numerous cases in which authorities have abused people they detained or stopped, Human Rights Watch said today. Bahrain should account for everyone who has been detained and free those arbitrarily arrested following recent public protests, Human Rights Watch said.
The government has issued no registry of detainees since anti-government demonstrations erupted on February 14, 2011. Over the past six weeks, and especially since the main protests were crushed on March16, relatives and friends of the missing have reported to the Wifaq National Islamic Society, an opposition political society, the names of 430 people they say are held by police and military authorities. Wifaq depends on victims, relatives, or witnesses to inform it of detentions.
A dozen members of families of the missing told Human Rights Watch that contact with their relatives had been limited to one extremely brief phone call to request fresh clothing. Authorities have not permitted families to visit their detained relatives. Freed detainees told Human Rights Watch of beatings and physical abuse.
"Emergency law does not provide authorities a free hand to trample basic human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Bahrain has created a state of fear, not a state of safety."
Bahraini authorities should immediately publish a list of detainees and specify why they are being held, Human Rights Watch said. Anyone suspected of a crime should be permitted to communicate with lawyers and family, and brought before an independent judge. All members of the security forces responsible for abusing detainees should be held accountable.
"The government should permit independent inspections of detention centers and thoroughly investigate incidents of abuse," Stork said.
On March 16 police and soldiers used force to clear the Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of demonstrations that began a month earlier. The government subsequently employed masked security officers and troops to suppress protests in Shia neighborhoods outside of the capital, leaving at least 18 civilians killed by security forces since the protests began. Police have routinely carried out nighttime raids on villages, invading households looking for people suspected of participating in or otherwise supporting anti-government protests.
Bahrain's police and military have operated under martial law, termed a "state of national safety," since March 15. On April 4 the government published a list of powers given the Bahrain Defense Force and other security forces. They are permitted to censor television, newspapers, and the internet; restrict nongovernmental groups, political societies, and unions; curb movement and seal off parts of the country; and make arrests of anyone suspected of threatening "the safety of citizens."
Detentions and arrest raids have escalated even as demonstrations have virtually ceased. Many of the people who spoke with Human Rights Watch asked the organization not to publish their names out of concern for their safety.
Cases of Detention
Relatives of Jalila al-Aali, an endocrinologist at Salmaniya Hospital, dropped her off at the Adliya Criminal Investigation Directorate, part of the Ministry of Interior, on April 4 after officials called her in for questioning. Police kept her there overnight, and relatives phoned the next day at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. to ask about her well-being and whereabouts. During the 5:30 p.m. phone call, an officer who said his name was Nabil told the family she was not there, but declined to say where she was.
On April 4 police detained Nahad al-Shirawi, a physician in Salmaniya's intensive care unit, taking her from the hospital to the Adliya CID station, her father, Nabil al-Shirawi, told Human Rights Watch. The next day, a police officer called the family to request clothing for her. Her sister and brother delivered the items, but officers at Adliya station did not permit them to see or speak with her, Nabil al-Shirawi said. He said he suspected that police detained al-Shirawi because she had been photographed weeping over a dead victim of a police crackdown on a demonstration.
At about 2 a.m. on March 28 police raided the home of Hassan Jassim Mohammed Maki, a 39-year old laborer, in the village of Karzakan. Masked men, some in blue police uniforms and some in civilian clothes, broke down the front door and asked for "Hussein," relatives told Human Rights Watch.
When told that nobody by that name lived there, police asked everyone's name. When they discovered Hassan, they handcuffed and slapped him and took him away. The family heard nothing about his fate until April 3, when they received a mid-morning call to bring his passport to Salmaniya Hospital. There, they were told that Maki had died of heart failure and that his death must have been a complication of sickle cell anemia. His body was brought in from another location, the relatives said. According to the death certificate, Maki died in Jaw Prison.
"We only were able to find out about Hassan after he died," a relative said. "Otherwise, we never have heard anything about him."
Human Rights Watch viewed photographs taken during the cleansing of Maki's body for burial, which showed bruises on the back and front of his body as well as his ankles and small wounds on the back of the head. His family did not ask hospital officials to perform an autopsy.
A relative of Afrah Mansour al-Asfour, an Arabic language teacher, said police took her from her home in the Magaba neighborhood, on March 29, following a 3 a.m. police raid. Al-Asfour had received a call from education ministry officials a week before inquiring whether she had been involved in organizing demonstrations at her school. On April 2 officials from the Interior Ministry's Criminal Investigation Directorate called her husband to ask to have someone bring al-Asfour fresh clothing. Her husband took clothing to the Adliya CID station but was not permitted to visit with her, the relative said. No one would tell him why his wife was under arrest, and he left an hour later.
Maki Hater, the father of 17-year old Ahmed Maki Hater, told Human Rights Watch that Ahmed was wounded at a demonstration in the town of Sitra on March 14 when police fired pellet guns at close range. An ambulance took him to a nearby clinic and then to Salmaniya Hospital. He spent three hours in intensive care and then was transferred to a ward on the fourth floor.
At about 10 p.m. police in black uniforms, which Bahrainis associate with a SWAT-type unit, entered the ward and checked patients for wounds, said Hater's father, who was there. Seeing pellet-gun wounds, they pulled Hater from his wheelchair and took him away in a car. Police told his parents that they would call them from Nuaimi police station to let them know when they could visit Hater. His mother went to the police station on March 18, but was not permitted to see him. She brought clothing the next day, which officers accepted.
On March 21, the family called the station to ask about Hater's whereabouts and was told he was not there. When they asked where Hater was, the person on the other end of the phone simply repeated that he was not at the station.
"Until now, that's all we know," Maki Hater told Human Rights Watch.
Mahmoud Hassan, 45, a worker at the ruling Al Khalifa family's stables, disappeared sometime on February 14. Family members searched Salmaniya hospital and local police stations. On March 29 Hassan called from Riffa police station and asked relatives to bring a change of clothes. They dropped the clothing off, but authorities there did not permit them to see him. After midnight on April 3, while his wife and their three young children were staying elsewhere, about two dozen police raided their empty house and overturned furniture and belongings, neighbors said. A laptop computer, antique cameras, pet birds, and a cat were missing, relatives said.
Abuse of Medical Patients
Released detainees described being beaten when they sought medical treatment. Abdallah Abbas told Human Rights Watch that he entered Ibn Nafis Hospital on March 16 for treatment of pellet-gun wounds to his arms and back. Shortly afterward, three policemen arrived and took him to Salmaniya Hospital. Over the following three nights, they slapped and kicked him numerous times.
On March 21, he said, police made a video of him and other wounded patients in a fourth-floor ward, instructing them to say they belonged to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia party and militia, and that he had been trained in Iraq. When he refused, they inflicted more beatings. After midnight on March 22, he said, police blindfolded him and took him to Nuaimi police station. There they kept him with other prisoners beneath a staircase where officers occasionally kicked them. A few hours later, the prisoners were released. Abbas said he still has some pellets in his arm, but is afraid to go to a clinic or hospital for treatment.
Harassment, Beatings at Checkpoints
Shiite citizens also risk harassment, beatings, and arrest at the plethora of checkpoints throughout Bahrain. A 17-year-old high school student told Human Rights Watch that police in blue uniforms detained him and two other youths at 9 a.m. on March 18 at a checkpoint near Manama, the capital. The police found a text message on his mobile phone giving a time of a past demonstration.
They bound him with plastic handcuffs, blindfolded him, and took him to Nuaimi station. There, he and other detainees were kept standing from 2:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. When they were allowed to sleep, they received occasional kicks and were told to say they "loved" the prime minister, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. The youths were released at 5 a.m.
A 22-year-old teacher told Human Rights Watch that police stopped her as she drove to work on April 2 at Roundabout Seven. Police in blue uniforms and helmets dragged her from her car, put a gun to her head, forced her to the ground, stripped her of her black headscarf, and demanded she use it to clean their shoes. As she complied, someone from behind kicked her in the back and left her sprawling on the pavement.
A uniformed army officer finally stopped at the scene and ordered police to end the abuse. The police pushed her back into her car, tossed in her scarf, and let her go.
"I haven't tried to go to work since," she told Human Rights Watch. "I am too afraid."
State of Emergency Law
"This reprehensible behavior goes beyond any measures permitted under a state of emergency," Stork said.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain ratified in 2006, permits some restrictions on rights during an officially-proclaimed public emergency that "threatens the life of the nation."
According to the Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts that monitors state compliance with the treaty, derogation of rights during a public emergency must be of an exceptional and temporary nature and must be "limited to the extent required by the exigencies of the situation." Fundamental rights, such as the right to life and the right to be secure from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, must be respected.
People held as administrative detainees under a lawful state of emergency should be brought before a judicial authority promptly, be informed of the reasons for detention, and have access to legal counsel and family members. Detainees should also be allowed to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before an independent judicial authority and to seek remedy for mistreatment and arbitrary arrest.