(Beirut) – A telecom engineer forcibly disappeared by security forces a year ago will be among the first civilians to face a military court under an April 2017 constitutional amendment, Human Rights Watch said today. Sayed Alawi’s whereabouts remained unknown until an October 22 announcement by Bahrain’s official news agency that he, along with three others, was in military custody and facing trial before a military court on terrorism-related charges.

Sayed Alawi, telecommunications engineer, was held incommunicado by Bahraini authorities for five weeks without access to a lawyer or his family.

© 2016 Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

Security forces detained Alawi, an employee of the state telecommunications company Batelco, at his workplace on October 24, 2016. In the initial weeks following his detention, his family received contradictory and apparently inaccurate responses, as well as denials, from various security offices and police stations, to their inquiries on his whereabouts, his wife told Human Rights Watch at the time. His family only heard from Alawi when he was finally allowed make three brief phone calls about six weeks apart between late November 2016 and late February 2017, and a fourth call of about one minute on July 27.

“Bahrain has managed to violate Sayed Alawi’s fundamental human rights in multiple ways – forcibly disappearing him, detaining him without charge for a year, and making him face military judges,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Security forces also forcibly disappeared one of the other defendants, Fadhel Radhi, for several weeks after they detained him at his home at 3 a.m. on September 29, 2016. The arresting officers did not inform his family where he was being held or the reason for his detention, Amnesty International reported. The Office of the Public Prosecutor told his family on May 9 that Radhi’s case had been transferred to military prosecutors.

The two others facing military trials are Mohamed Husain and Mohamed Abdulhassan. Both were arrested in late May following an assault by security forces on a sit-in in the village of Diraz, during which 5 protesters were killed and 287 arrested. The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said that all four have been held in incommunicado detention and without access to families or lawyers.

Alawi’s family submitted numerous complaints to the Interior Ministry’s Ombudsman Office and Special Investigations Unit, and the Office of the Pubic Prosecutor. On September 11, the Ombudsman Office responded to an inquiry by the Washington-based Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) about the state of its investigation, saying that Alawi “had been transferred to be under the responsibility of another authority, which is out of the Ombudsman’s remit.”

The Bahrain News Agency announcement said that the Bahraini Defense Forces’ “anti-terrorism security agencies” arrested the four “after gathering information, research, investigation and monitoring, in a preemptive step.” It did not mention that Alawi and Radhi had been in incommunicado custody for more than a year, initially under the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigations Department, and Husain and Abdulhassan for five months.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in April ratified a constitutional amendment giving military courts jurisdiction over civilians. The last time Bahraini military courts prosecuted civilians was in the aftermath of large anti-government protests in 2011, when they convicted some 300 people of political crimes. The explanatory note accompanying the February vote in the Council of Representatives approving the amendment said that it was needed to “make the military justice system flexible and speedy in investigating and sentencing.”

Bahrain appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council for a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record in May, where it was criticized for extending the military tribunals’ jurisdictions to civilians, and received at least one recommendation to reverse the move. Other countries at the review also called on Bahrain to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to ensure that the prohibition on enforced disappearances was strictly enforced.

“Bahraini authorities have made clear once again that justice is the last thing that Bahraini citizens can expect, and the Ombudsman has shown again that he is unable to independently monitor abuses,” Stork said.