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(Beirut) –Bahrain security forces routinely detain children without cause and subject them to ill-treatment that may rise to the level of torture, Human Rights Watch said today, based on reports from victims, family members and legal rights activists.

On September 12, 2013, the European Parliament issued a further resolution on the deteriorating rights situation in Bahrain, urging it, among other things, “to respect the rights of juveniles, to refrain from detaining them in adult facilities, and to treat juveniles in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bahrain is a party”.

“Rounding up kids, throwing them in jail and beating and threatening them is no way for a country to treat its children,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Bahraini authorities need to look into these allegations and immediately call a halt to any arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of children.”

Information recently obtained from victims, family members, and local rights activists suggests that Bahraini authorities often hold children for long periods in detention and subject them to similar forms of mistreatment as adult detainees, including beatings and threats of torture. The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires governments to protect children from ill-treatment and torture, to give all child detainees – those under 18 – special protections and to separate them from adults in detention.

Bahraini rights groups told Human Rights Watch that the detention of children suspected of involvement in anti-government protests is common. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights recorded 15 such detentions in August and said that the number of child arrests makes it impossible to document every detention to ascertain its lawfulness and the age of the people involved. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights recorded 22 such detentions since August 1.

Murtada al-Muqtad, the brother of an arrested boy, told Human Rights Watch that police arrested a group of 14 people, including 9 boys between the ages of 15 and 17, on September 5 at a swimming pool near the Ain Adhari National Park. He said that they were among a group from the nearby town of Bilad al-Qadim who had rented the swimming pool to enjoy a last night out before school started on September 8.

Al-Muqtad said that Jafar al-Muqtad, the youngest of the group at 15, called his family the day after his arrest, but it was not until September 9 that he was able to tell his family that he was in Dry Dock detention center and describe the circumstances of his arrest. He said that six police cars arrived at the swimming pool at 4 a.m., arrested the 14 people who were still there and blindfolded, punched, and kicked the group of youths while detaining them. He also said that interrogators later mistreated them, pressing them to confess to a September 2 attack on a police officer with Molotov cocktails. On September 11, officers at Dry Dock refused the family’s request to see him.

Murtada al-Muqtad said that his younger brothers had not had access to a lawyer or social worker, though the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Bahrain and nearly every country in the world, requires that “every child deprived of his or her liberty… has the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance.”

In a separate incident, more than 10 plain-clothes and uniformed police went to the home of another 15-year-old boy, Ali Rustam, in the village of Al Arad in the early hours of September 8 and arrested him, Bahraini rights activists said. They said that Rustam, who has diabetes and requires four daily injections of insulin, had not had any contact with his family since then.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with Sayed Alwadaei, who made detailed allegations of torture during two separate periods when he was detained, in January and July, when he was 17 and still a child under international law. After he attended a peaceful protest near the Al Khawaja mosque on January 25, Sayed said, police arrested him and about 20 other people.

He said that the arresting officers beat them on the street, loaded them onto a bus, and took them to Al Hoora police station. The officers continued beating them in the bus as it was parked outside, he said. At one stage, Alwadaei said, a commanding officer came back onto the bus to tell the police beating the protesters to make less noise.

At the office of the public prosecutor the following day a lawyer assigned to represent Alwadaei asked for his release, based on his age. The officers present during his questioning there told the lawyer that they would “look into it,” but took Sayed to Dry Dock detention facility the same day. He spent 45 days there in a wing with adult prisoners before he was released on bail of 500 Bahraini dinars (US$1,325). He told Human Rights Watch that prison officers originally took him to a wing for child detainees, but that it was full.

In the early morning of July 8, Alwadaei said, police in civilian clothes and an unmarked vehicle randomly stopped the car he was traveling in with two others and arrested him again, claiming that there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. They told him they were taking him to Wista police station but they in fact took him to the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CID).

On arrival, an officer cuffed his hands behind his back and blindfolded him with an Arab head-dress. Sayed was forced to stand in a corridor for several hours, where passing officers insulted him. Alwadaei said that one officer told him that they were going to rape him. Two officers then interrogated him. “Do you know what the CID does to people who don’t help us?” one asked him.

He said they told him to confess to burning tires at a protest on May 12 near the Al Fakhar roundabout, where he had been arrested. Initially he denied the allegations, but after a series of threats, he confessed. “In this place, you have no choice,” he told Human Rights Watch. “You confess to whatever they want you to.” Authorities detained Alwadaei for another 15 days before releasing him again on bail. On September 26, he will face charges of illegal gathering and inciting hatred against the regime.

Alwadaei’s story bears some similarity to the findings of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which described one incident in which its investigators found “a number of children” under age 15 standing blindfolded and handcuffed in a police station. The report said: “They had all been beaten and one boy, who was 14 years old, had cigarettes burns on his chest.… Security forces told Commission investigators that the boys had been arrested for throwing stones at two police cars. The Commission investigators examined the police cars and noted that the damage to them was extremely minor.”

In June 2011, the Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its review of Bahrain’s adherence to the Convention. The concluding observations noted “with concern reports according to which torture and other forms of ill-treatment were used by the State party during the recent political events. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned that among the victims of torture there allegedly have been persons under the age of 18. In this regard, the Committee expresses serious concern at the lack of investigation into complaints of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and arbitrary arrests, resulting in insufficient prosecution of perpetrators.”

Bahrain has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. In line with article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the term “child” refers to a person under 18. Article 37(b) of the CRC mandates that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and that the detention of children “shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

The government of Bahrain should open thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including of child detainees. In addition, the Bahraini government should stop its widespread detention of children and only detain anyone under 18 as a last resort. Child detainees should be separated from adults in all cases, and authorities should immediately notify their families of their location, and provide prompt access to legal counsel.

“Bahraini authorities need to investigate urgently the allegations that children are being arrested arbitrarily and mistreated, and put a stop to it,” Stork said.

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