(Beirut) – Bahrain police beat children arrested in protest-related cases in February 2021 and threatened them with rape and electric shocks, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Human Rights Watch said today. Prosecutors and judges enabled the abuses. Police and prosecutors refused to allow parents or lawyers of the children, ages 11 to 17, to be present during their interrogations, and judges unnecessarily ordered their detention. One of the children spent his 12th birthday in jail.
Four children remain in detention and are being tried as adults, including a 16-year-old with a serious medical condition whose next court hearing is set for March 11. Bahrain should release all children when there are alternatives to detention and drop abusive charges against them. Governments that support Bahrain and its police and security forces, including the United States and United Kingdom, should ensure their aid is not funding abuses and publicly demand accountability.
“A police officer who threatens a 13-year-old with rape or electric shocks from a car battery is an abominable stain on Bahrain’s reputation,” said Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, advocacy director at BIRD. “Bahraini police officers treated children as enemies who must be terrorized into confessing, while prosecutors and judges shut parents and lawyers out of proceedings.”
According to information from family members and Ebtisam al-Saegh, a Bahraini rights advocate, police arrested and detained 13 children in early to mid-February. The two rights groups spoke to six of the children and the families of another five.
In some cases, police arrested children for allegedly burning bicycle tires or a chair or blocking a road on the day of their arrest. Police also accused children of planting a fake bomb, vandalism, and throwing Molotov cocktails in November 2020, the children and their families said. If convicted, some of the children could face sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
The timing of the arrests indicates a heavy-handed government approach to protests on or around February 14, the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Arab uprising in Bahrain, to snuff out dissent and dissuade protesters from assembling to mark the anniversary, the rights groups said. Bahraini authorities have used pre-emptive or arbitrary arrests to deter people from protesting around other major events, like Formula One races.
On February 14, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa approved Law No. 4/2021 on Child Restorative Justice and Protection from Abuse, which will come into effect in six months. The law raises the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 15, defines a child as anyone under 18, and provides for special child courts and separate detention facilities for children. Bahraini criminal laws currently treat children ages 16 and older as adults.
Most of the children’s cases involved abuses or due process violations at the Hamad Town police station. Five children, arrested on February 14 and 15, said that police from the station beat, insulted, and threatened them with electric shocks from a car battery. An officer hit a 13-year-old on his head and threatened to rape him, give him electric shocks, and beat his genitals, and repeated the rape threat even after his father was allowed to join him, his father said.
Police did not allow parents or lawyers to be present during the children’s arrest and initial questioning, during which abuses were also reported. Bahraini law provides that a lawyer may not be barred from seeing a client at any stage of a criminal proceeding. In five cases, parents were allowed to be present when police were taking the children’s statements, but only after the children had already orally confessed, and the officers had threatened to detain them if they did not repeat their confession in their formal statement, the children and parents said.
Children were also questioned at the Public Prosecution office in Manama. Prosecutors did not allow parents to be present when they took children’s statements, the children and their families said. Judges issued and renewed children’s detention orders without notifying parents or allowing them into hearings. Under Bahraini law, judges may issue or renew detention orders for up to seven days against children without a reasoned justification.
The authorities also refused to allow children’s families to visit them in detention. The family of Sayed Hasan Ameen, 16, was prohibited by authorities at the Dry Dock Detention Center from bringing his prescribed medications for five days after his arrest. The detention center then failed to give him his medicines for another three days. Ameen has serious medical complications from sickle cell anemia, including seizures, and was hospitalized for most of November. At a hearing on February 24, a judge refused to release Ameen. Three other children in his case also remain detained.
After international attention to their cases, six of the children detained in February were released, even though a judge had renewed their detention orders for seven days.
The abuses children described around the February 14 anniversary recall the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) on abuses in February and March 2011, which reported that children were taken to police stations and subjected to “beating, slapping, kicking, lashing … and verbal abuse.” In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture of children in detention in Bahrain.
The authorities have failed to credibly investigate and prosecute officials and police officers who allegedly committed serious violations, including torture, creating a culture of impunity.
“These abuses by Bahrain’s criminal justice system are the latest entry in a long record of harming children to send a repressive message,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The UK, US, and other governments should ensure that their security support to Bahrain is not being used to torture and humiliate kids.”
Bahrain police detained Mahmoud M., 13, and Ahmad A., 13, on December 21 and again from February 7 until February 15 at Isa Town Juvenile Center on allegations of burning tires and a water tank in their village, Abu Quwwa, in 2020, the boys said. (All names with initials are pseudonyms.)
Police questioned them, without a parent or a lawyer, at the Hamad Town police station on December 21. Officers threatened to beat them to confess to the arson, the boys said. Mahmoud was questioned from midnight to 5:30 a.m., and Ahmad was summoned at 1:30 a.m. “I was scared, and I was tired,” he said. “The interrogator threatened to beat me, and said, ‘Unless you confess, you won’t leave.’” The two boys were released without charge that day.
On February 7, the boys were summoned for questioning at the public prosecution office. Mahmoud was questioned alone, even though his mother and his lawyer were in the building. “They were yelling at me, ‘You have to confess!’,” Mahmoud said. “I heard them yelling at [Ahmad] in a different room.” Ahmad said that his lawyer was present during his questioning by the prosecution on February 7, “but then they called me back in without the lawyer and told me I’m lying.”
On the same day, a Juvenile Court judge ordered their detention for one week. A judge renewed both boys’ detentions for another seven days on February 14, but authorities released them the following day without explanation, the boys said. They face sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
Saleh S., 15, and Adam A., 12, were summoned for questioning at the public prosecution office on February 8 and detained until February 17, at the Isa Town Juvenile Detention Center for allegedly burning a chair during a protest in their town, Malikiyya, during the Bahrain Formula One car race on November 29, relatives said.
The boys had previously been interrogated at Hamad Town police station about the alleged incident on December 6, without a lawyer or parent. Saleh’s father repeatedly asked to accompany his son during the interrogation, but police refused, he said. The director of the station called them back on December 8 and threatened Saleh with 15 years in prison “if anything else happens in Malikiyya” and told Saleh’s father, “your kids are vandals,” the father said. “He [the director] was humiliating us.”
On February 8, the prosecutor interrogated the children alone and a Juvenile Court judge ordered their detention for seven days at Isa Town Juvenile Detention Center, at a hearing to which their parents were denied entry. “They didn’t even give us time to hire a lawyer,” a relative of Saleh’s said. The detention order was renewed for seven days on February 15, but the two boys were released on February 17 without explanation.
Officials at the detention facility refused to allow either boy’s family to visit. Adam was allowed a single brief phone call and “was crying the entire time,” a relative said. Adam spent his 12th birthday in detention.
Sayed Hasan Ameen, 16, and two other boys, ages 16 and 17, were arrested and ordered detained on February 11 at a hearing before the Fourth High Criminal Court for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails. A lawyer was present, but family members were not permitted. Ameen’s family said that he and the other boys were taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate, and then to Dry Dock Detention Center. A fourth child has been detained since November 30, 2020 in the same case.
Ameen has medical complications due to sickle cell anemia, including a kidney infection, a lung infection, and heart problems. The authorities refused to allow his family to bring his medication, which he needs to take daily, until February 15, after his family submitted information about his medical condition to the court. Prison authorities failed to deliver the medicine until February 18, the family said. His medications included anti-convulsant drugs and antibiotics, both of which can have severe adverse health consequences if interrupted.
According to medical records shared by his family, Ameen was hospitalized for 26 days in October and November, including 7 days in intensive care, after suffering seizures and reduced heart function linked to sickle cell anemia. Ameen’s underlying conditions make him highly at risk of severe illness from Covid-19. The Interior Ministry has confirmed at least one positive Covid-19 case at the Dry Dock facility.
Ameen was also questioned at the Hamad Town police station in early 2020 about an alleged tire burning incident in 2019 and released without charge.
On February 14, Abdulaziz A., 13, and another 13-year-old boy were arrested and questioned at Hamad Town Police Station, without a lawyer or parent, on allegations of blocking a road and vandalism, the boys and their relatives said. They said police took them to a cabin or outbuilding at the station where an officer hit Abdulaziz on his head, threatened to rape him and hit his genitals, and threatened to shock both boys with electricity.
A family member joined Abdulaziz as an officer was writing out his statement. A man in black civilian clothing “threatened [Abdulaziz] with rape, in front of me,” the family member said.
On February 16, they were summoned to the Hamad Town station, and without their parents or a lawyer were questioned by a prosecutor, presented before a judge, and transferred to the Isa Town Juvenile Detention Center, family members said. One family member said, “I asked [the police] if I can bring a lawyer, but they said no, a lawyer is not allowed in the first session [with the prosecution], not even in the court.”
On February 17, a judge ordered their detention for seven days, but they were released that night. On February 18, the police station informed the families the case would be closed due to the children’s ages, they said.
The authorities questioned two other boys in the same case, including Haidar H., 14. They were summoned to the prosecution on February 18, where a relative of Haidar’s was repeatedly refused permission to be present during the interrogation.
Abdulaziz had previously been detained for eight days on February 14, 2020 and charged with participating in an illegal gathering, but the case was dropped due to Covid-19 restrictions, his family said.
Akram A., 14, and Fadi F., 13, said police arrested them outside a bakery in the town of Shahrakan at around 5:30 p.m. on February 15 after a group of boys had set fire to bicycle tires at a traffic roundabout, the children and their families said. As they were being driven in a civilian car to Hamad Town Police Station, an officer painfully twisted Akram’s arm and “told me to confess or I would be imprisoned,” he said.
Another boy, Qasem Q., 13, said police arrested him at his home around 8:30 p.m. and “beat me on the head with slaps and punches” while they were driving to the same police station and told him to confess. Police also arrested another child in the case.
At the police station an officer hit Qasem: “He said, ‘Confess that you planted a fake bomb...’ I said no, so he beat me. He said, ‘I will electrocute you and then you will confess.’” Akram and Fadi were subjected to similar abuse and bomb accusations, Akram said. “The officer was screaming at me … [Another officer] pinned my arm behind my back [painfully] and said, ‘Say it, say it.’” Fadi said the officer screamed at him, called him a “bastard,” and threw a ruler at him.
The three boys each said they were taken from the main building to a cabin, or outbuilding, with a corrugated metal roof, where a police officer showed them a car battery with jumper cables and threatened to give them electric shocks. The officer told Akram “he would electrocute both of us one by one,” and that he would “throw water on me and then connect the wire to the battery and put it on me.” Fadi said an officer “pushed the ends of the wire together and [I saw] the sparks. He told me to confess or he would electrocute me.”
An officer beat Qasem on the head and threatened him with electric shocks, he said. “I confessed so he would stop hitting me, but he was angry and he hit me more. He was also insulting me.” All three boys identified the same outbuilding in a satellite image of the police station.
The boys’ fathers were allowed to join them while the boys provided statements to police attesting their confessions under threat of torture. They were then released.
The prosecutor’s office summoned the boys for questioning again on February 17. Fadi’s lawyer was present, but Akram was questioned alone, and said that the prosecutor “didn’t permit us to read” his confession: “She said just sign it.” He did so “because of fear. The day I was arrested, the police told me, ‘If you say anything [to the prosecution] other than what you said in the police station, we will detain you.’”
This post was originally published on Human Rights Watch News.