Posts Tagged Bahrain

New ruling means status does not provide safety from torture prosecution

Last week a British court published a ruling that could provide justice for victims of torture not just in Bahrain but also across the world.

Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa

Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa

The ruling, denying immunity to Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, means the prince could face arrest in the UK for his role in the torture of pro-democracy protestors.

Backed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the decision annuls the prince’s claims of immunity under the State Immunity Act (1978).

The case against the prince, brought to court by an anonymous torture survivor known only as FF, alleges the prince was directly involved in the torture of a group of detained prisoners during the pro-democracy protests in 2011.

FF claims he was beaten and imprisoned for joining the protests. So far, no members of the authorities face prosecution for their role in the ill-treatment, torture and death of dozens of protestors.

In July 2012, a dossier contained evidence that the prince had personally tortured protestors, yet no charges of torture emerged despite the prince regularly visiting the UK.

This ruling gives hope not only to FF, but also to fellow torture survivors who seek prosecution of some of the highest-ranked state figures.

In a press release, FF says the ruling should prompt Britain to “review its policy of co-operation and support for the Bahrain regime.”

Seeking justice is an important step in the rehabilitation of a torture survivor and many survivors of torture view justice proceedings as an integral part of their recovery. Prosecutions and public condemnation of torture also helps prevent the practice and brings to the surface the trauma that torture survivors face.

Also, this ruling shows that perpetrators of torture, no matter who they are, cannot hide forever. Regardless of social class, the message is that torture is a crime and, as with all crimes, there is an expectation of punishment for the perpetrators. No one is, or should be, immune from prosecution for the crime of torture.

Let us hope similar rulings continue to emerge to reiterate that torture and impunity must end.

 

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Detention, imprisonment and torture: The new life of the Al-Khawajas

When Maryam Al-Khawaja announced her trip to visit Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain last week, following the recommencement of his hunger strike, all seemed well. The trip was to simply see how her father was faring.

Yet her assessment of his condition never came. In the morning of 30 August, Maryam posted a series of tweets on Twitter outlining how she was immediately detained on arrival with security forces claiming she is “not a Bahraini citizen”:

“I’m denied entry. I’m starting a water-only hunger strike. I won’t voluntarily leave. My only demand is to be let into my country.”

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Since then Maryam has been posting regular updates on her situation, from her declaration of beginning a water-only hunger strike and the snippets of conversations she hears from guards who wish to deport her.

Now, five days after her detention, her Twitter account has changed. A third-party is writing the tweets for her; news is sparse; and the condition of her father, Abdulhadi, must be deteriorating.

Ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and torture are no distant themes to Maryam, her family and her friends. Maryam and her colleagues – and those associated to those colleagues – have been continual targets for their role in supporting human rights in Bahrain through the criminalised Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

A long friend of the IRCT, Maryam has spoken in the past about the appalling human rights record of Bahrain, what the international community needs to do to recognise the abuses and the situation facing her family and friends on a daily basis.

The year 2011 marked the beginning of the now well-documented struggle for the Al-Khawajas. Following several years of banning from the Bahrain state, head of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab (himself only recently released from prison for his role in the centre) and Maryam began travelling the world to speak out about the situation in Bahrain, the vicious crackdowns on protestors and the torture which exists in the Bahrain prison network. It is a story Maryam knows all too well – her father, on hunger strike now, was arrested in April 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Maryam’s sister Zainab was then targeted and has been subjected to repeated arrest, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse, including facing ongoing charges in relation to calling for her father’s freedom. Zainab was released on bail in February 2014, after almost a year’s detention on the oft-cited charges of “insulting the King”, a charge which can lead to seven years imprisonment. Now seven months pregnant, Zainab faces trial again in October. If sentenced she could ultimately give birth inside prison.

Next on the arrest list was Maryam’s long-term friend and colleague Nabeel Rajab. In April 2012, amidst protests to cancel the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, Nabeel was arrested and sentenced to prison for having “insulted” Bahraini authorities via Twitter – a landmark ruling at the time as social media dissent had not been punished quite so harshly.

Thankfully Nabeel was released in May 2014, but his experience inside was harrowing. He was beaten, interrogated, left in solitary confinement with a dead animal and stripped naked on many occasions.

It is this prevalent treatment which worries human rights organisations now. Maryam’s father has already undergone major surgery in the past to treat the torture he received in Bahraini jail. And as Maryam told World Without Torture last year, her sister has been a victim of continued harassment, threats and beatings during her time in jail also.

Right now, according to BCHR, Maryam is facing “charges of assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty,” alleging Maryam attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone at the airport.

Her lawyer has been denied access to her, as have her family. She has been moved to the Isa Town women prison and placed with two convicted criminals.

There is a high degree of urgency in assuring the safety of Ms Al-Khawaja, particularly considering the abuse which her family has suffered in the past.

Maryam’s release must come now. The world is watching.

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Creating a world without torture: August in review

We round-up our blogs from August and don’t forget to keep checking the blog in the coming weeks for more. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

The US and torture: Ignorance, arrogance and denial

Over the past month many blogs have focused on the continuing involvement, direct or indirect, of the US in torture across the world.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

As continued pressure grows on the US to release in full the CIA torture report, which highlights the extent of torture perpetrated by the CIA against terror suspects post-9/11, we reminded critics of the CIA to also remember that the torture methods and devices were designed by doctors – doctors who have a duty to heal, not harm. While the CIA role cannot be understated, the role of medical personnel in designing torture must be accounted for also.

Overseas, we joined hundreds of human rights organisations in calling for the US military to be held accountable for the deaths and torture of Afghani civilians and for better practices to ensure that families of the dead are made aware of the circumstances of death immediately. Currently many families simply do not know the true fate of their loved ones. This blindness prevent them not only knowing the truth, but also accessing justice and rehabilitation. This has to end.

 

New rehabilitation modes taking torture and culture seriously

Still in the US, but a more positive note, we looked at one program from the Harvard Program in Refugee Torture which is helping Cambodian survivors of torture overcome the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

torture journalToday Cambodians still come to terms with the Khmer Rouge regime, one which is still being brought to justice, most recently with the life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two figureheads of the regime.

For the survivors, justice only does so much. For many their families are destroyed and those who tortured them have already escaped punishment throughout the majority of their lives.

The article, which you can read here, is set to feature in the new edition of Torture Journal also.

 

Underground torture in Lebanon

Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.

It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.

You can read more on CLDH’s campaign to end the detention centre by clicking this link.

 

Australia can no longer deny that its treatment of asylum seekers does not constitute torture

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Criticism of the Australian policy on detaining and deporting asylum seekers with little consideration for their wellbeing quietened over August. That was until Dr Peter Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, the company responsible for healthcare in all of Australia’s detention centres, boldly confronted what many have suspected for a long time: treatment in Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres is akin to torture.

We congratulated Dr Young for his honesty. Read more about it here.

 

Two different but effective rehabilitation programmes from two IRCT members

The 143 IRCT members across the world are working tirelessly every day to ensure survivors of torture are rehabilitated, given access to reparations and justice and that torture is prevented within their contexts.

This month we focused on two centres in particular who are using art forms to rehabilitate torture survivors.

The first was the Accoglenza e Cura Vittime di Tortura (Vi.To.) project, funded via the European Union’s EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) for IRCT member the Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati (CIR) (Italian Council for Refugees). Staff at the centre use theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills.

You can read more about the project and see all the pictures here.

Secondly we focused on Freedom from Torture in the UK and their “Write to Life” project. A creative writing group the “Write to Life” project is one of the most powerful therapy programmes on offer. It has been meeting continuously every two-weeks for 12 years, has produced a formidable body of writing, and the participating torture survivors have reported that the group has aidedtheir rehabilitation – not bad for an initiative initially dismissed by some medical experts. You can read more about it here.

 

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Creating a world without torture: February in review

Despite being the shortest month of our calendar, February has been packed with important news stories, statements and developments across the anti-torture movement.

We summarise some of our most popular blogs, social media content and news releases below. Simply click the relevant links and pictures to read the full stories.

STTARS Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance & Rehabilitation Service, Australia

STTARS Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance & Rehabilitation Service, Australia

10 questions and answers about torture rehabilitation

Ever wondered what can be achieved through rehabilitation? Ever wanted to know exactly what can be done to help victims of torture overcome their past? Or have you simply questioned how many centres across the globe offer torture rehabilitation services?

This month we collected the top ten questions asked by our readers about anti-torture work and answered them with links to our work. Just click the picture or this link to read more.
 

IRCT President awarded Council of Europe prize

IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour

IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour

Another popular story this month came from the IRCT whose President, Suzanne Jabbour, has been awarded the prestigious North-South Prize from the Council of Europe in recognition of her lifelong commitment to preventing torture.

The award, which will be presented this Spring in Lisbon, Portugal, has a long list of famous previous winners including Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof.

Suzanne is overjoyed with her victory and we want to thank everyone who joined us in congratulating Suzanne on this award. Read the full story here.
 

‘Wheel of Torture’ shows more must be done to stop torture in the Philippines

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman”  which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman” which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

A prison guard takes a detainee from his or her cell, escorts them to a roulette-style wheel listing different methods of torture, and spins the wheel to determine just how much pain should be inflicted on the prisoner.

This ‘Wheel of Torture’, which uses torture as a game, came to light in the world media this month following an inspection of prisons in the Philippines and shocked human rights groups worldwide.

The practice not only showed us how torture is still being reinvented and adapted in sadistic ways, but also showed just how little is being done in the Philippines to stop torture. You can read our full blog on this, and the statement from human rights defenders in the country, by clicking this link.
 

‘Act of Killing’ BAFTA victory is important for anti-torture movement

A story we shared on Facebook this month garnered much attention – the vivid, hard-hitting documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ achieved must deserved recognition from the British Academy of Film, Television and Arts (BAFTA) this month, receiving the award for Best Documentary at the latest awards ceremony.

Click our status below to watch an interview with the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer following the award.

WWTFBshare

 

The challenges facing torture rehabilitation in northern Iraq

The logo for the new centre

The logo for the new centre

We caught up with IRCT member the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims in Iraq this month to see what they are doing to help survivors of torture in the region.

The newest member of the IRCT movement, the Kirkuk Centre have extensive links across the north of the country to aid victims of torture from all backgrounds, from those affected by the war in Iraq, to the recent influx of Syrian refugees in the region.

It comes as part of our ‘On the Forefront’ series, which you can see all the entries for by clicking this link.
 

Tunisia passes new constitution

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Incredible news from Tunisia this month, who passed a new constitution promoting equal rights for women, freedom of religious expression, and freedom from torture – all ratified just three years after revolution.

We joined world leaders in congratulating Tunisia on this move which will hopefully push other contries to follow the lead.

Click here or the picture for more information.
 
 
 
 

Change in Bahrain is needed now, not in another three years

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

However in Bahrain, which also experienced uprisings against the government three years ago, the situation of ill-treatment of protestors and limits to freedom of expression has not changed.

Protests continue on a daily basis, and the three-year anniversary since the beginning of the protests was tragically marked itself by further protests and excessive crackdowns from the authorities.

Bahrain needs to change now. It simply cannot wait any longer. Read the full story by clicking the picture or clicking this link.
 

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Change in Bahrain is needed now, not in another three years

Despite a strong government crackdown on protestors, over 300,000 people took to the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama on 14 February to mark the three-year anniversary of the Bahraini protests.

And despite three-years of torture, imprisonment, and even deaths of protestors, the demonstrations against the government do not seem to be slowing down.

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

The scene at the Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

But also what is not slowing down is the government’s resistance to relinquishing power to the people. On the anniversary march alone, over 50 people were injured by rubber pellets and tear gas fired by police.

The last three years have seen the Bahraini government, the House of Al Khalifa, use extreme force over protestors whom are campaigning for respect for human rights. In every protest, the government has repelled the protestors with the use of force. The result over three years is shocking: according to data from The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), 93 people have died; more than 2,200 political prisoners remain in detention; and torture and enforced disappearances remain widespread on a daily basis.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has tracked the uprising since day one and Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the BCHR following the arrest of President Nabeel Rajab, knows in detail the harm the government can cause.

Her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has been imprisoned since April 2011 for allegedly plotting a coup during the pro-democracy protests. Maryam’s sister Zainab – who was recently released from detention – still faces a string of ‘anti-government’ charges. They are just two cases out of thousands who have been silenced by the government.

“People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution as ‘failed’,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja in a piece to World Without Torture. “It is just an inconvenient revolution – a revolution which is happening in a country which is solidly linked to the interests of the West in terms of oil, trading and so on that it would prove problematic to recognise as an active, powerful movement.”

The homepage image of happiness from Bahrain.com, managed by the Bahrain Economic Development Board

Happiness on Bahrain.com, managed by the Bahrain Economic Development Board

Three years on, her assessment certainly still seems accurate. Aside from the occasional news report online, the world seems oblivious to Bahrain: the country is still portrayed as a safe haven for foreign investment and tourism; and large-scale international events, such as the Formula One Grand Prix, still continue to uphold the myth that Bahrain is free from unrest.

Yet the sheer numbers of protestors marking the importance of the ‘revolution’ tell a different story about the realities of Bahrain: its people want a democratic change from the 230-year-old Al Khalifa rule.

With human rights coming into question on a daily basis, it is a change that is needed – now, not in another three years.

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Looking back at 2013

With New Year approaching, we at World Without Torture reflect on a selection of the stories which we have covered over the past year.

The last year has seen many tragedies, obstacles and difficulties in the human rights field. But coupled with this has come tremendous success, concrete change, and real participation in the fight to ensure human rights are respected across the globe.

Click any picture in the gallery below for more information and links to some of the most memorable stories this year. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to add your additions in the comments. We look forward to seeing you in 2014 and wish you a very happy New Year.

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Middle-East’s blind spot: for how long can we ignore Bahrain’s “inconvenient revolution”?

Maryamal-KhawajaAmidst the Copenhagen bustle sits 26-year-old Bahraini human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja who, on the face of it, appears to be oblivious to her anxieties. These are perhaps the only two minutes to relax from her work at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Maryam has just been discussing her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been imprisoned since April 2011 for participating in the pro-democracy protests which swept the nation of Bahrain.

Tortured ever since – including beatings so severe he underwent urgent surgery to reconstruct his jaw in 2011 – Abdulhadi’s case looks increasingly desperate. But Maryam manages to distance herself from this well.

“It is another case indicative of the repression exercised by the rulers of Bahrain,” she says flippantly. “In 2011, I wrote a report about a man who had been beaten to the point that no one recognised him.

“I was told at the end of the report that the man who had been tortured was my father. My initial reaction was not to break down but to finish the report. There are so many other torture cases and personalising them does not help my work. You need to normalise it. In my head, most of the time my father is not even in prison.”

But the fact is that along with thousands of other pro-democracy protestors, Maryam’s father, and sister Zainab, wallow in the horrifying conditions of Bahraini prison with little chance of a fair trial or basic human rights.

“There is torture in the prisons,” says Maryam. “The international community focus so much on improving conditions for prisoners when, in reality, these political prisoners should not be detained in the first place. Their release should be called on and they should have assured prison qualities until that point.”

The ‘failed’ revolution?

Yet pressure on the ruling family of Bahrain to accept their shameful human rights record is something which Maryam cynically believes will not be applied by the international community. “People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution of Bahrain as a ‘failed’ revolution,” she says. “It is just an inconvenient revolution – a revolution which is happening in a country which is solidly linked to the interests of the West in terms of oil, trading and so on that it would prove problematic to recognise as an active, powerful movement.”

We’re talking with each other in the same week that Syria has dominated the news – a humanitarian crisis which has seen millions of people seek refuge in nearby countries.

In this field of vision, Bahrain has become lost. The revolutionary protests which screened all over the world almost three years ago in early 2011 seem long forgotten.

“Bahrain is such a controlled country that now the protests are rarely seen. People are fearful that if they go to the wrong street, or even to the shops in their area, they will be arrested, tear gassed, tortured and so on. They therefore do not have the safety, inclination or room to go into the streets and protest like you would perhaps see elsewhere. And that’s one reason why it does not get coverage. The ruling family of Bahrain know this.”

The Bahraini royal family, the House of Al Khalifa, assumed power approximately 230 years ago and have yet to relinquish it. Indeed half of the current Parliament in Bahrain are aligned to the family and the country’s only unelected Prime Minister, who has been in his position for 43 years, is related to the family also, being the uncle to the current self-declared king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

It is this monopolised rule which led to the protests in April 2011 – protests which have, in fact, been occurring regularly since the 1920s’ and before.

Sectarian myth

In the 1950s’ a group called Intifadat al-Haya’a, led by the religious leaders of both the Sunni and Shia communities, started an uprising for civil rights. At this time Bahrain was still a British protectorate so with the help of the British the Bahraini regime crushed this opposition and arrested all of the leading figures..

“The Al Khalifa family knew that if the Sunni and Shia communities stayed united it could spell the end of their rule,” explains Maryam. “So since the 1950s’ the family has been focusing their attention on marginalizing the majority of the country, the Shia community, thereby sidelining their biggest threat. They created this ‘us and them’ fashion through labeling the Shia community more and more, to make it impossible for them to integrate with the Sunni community and, as such, crush any uprising. This is not saying that Sunnis benefit entirely from the Bahrain rulers, because they do not. But it is just one move into the ruling party’s idea to change the demographic of the country so it is majority Sunni rather than Shia.”

This sectarianism is, according to Maryam, just another tool of gaining control by the royal family.

“The family see everyone as an enemy yet portray to Western media that there is a sectarian problem, not a problem between the rulers and the people,” she says.

“It is simply not true. Bahrain is not a sectarian problem. It’s a human rights problem. People, no matter who they are, have no room for freedom of expression, right to safety and so on. People are beaten, tortured and detained on a mass scale – and why? All because they want to exercise their human rights.”

But what can be done to bring change in Bahrain and, in the first instance, call the human rights record of the Al Khalifa family to attention?

International pressure

“You do not need military feet on the ground,” states Maryam. “What you need is pressure on the Bahraini government to accept the evidence we already have, in relation to sanctions against individuals like visa rejections, torture documentation and so on. What you need is for the countries who claim that they promote human rights and democracy to uphold these values – not among their enemies, but among their friends. Bahrain is a friend which is not upholding basic human values, but that would be an embarrassing thing to admit.

“At least in Egypt there is a sphere to go out on the streets and protest. But in Bahrain, public space is controlled in a suffocating manner . In that sense it is not really similar to other protests in the Middle East and is actually more similar to Rwanda – not that there will be a genocide, but there will come a time when something which as been silently bubbling will explode into the open. There is absolutely no room for expression, for freedom of speech or to manoeuvre.”

Fittingly, in the same way I misinterpreted the calmness in Maryam at the coffee shop, it seems Bahrain has a hidden undercurrent of turmoil.

“Everything seems alright and as if changes have been made. But there is always something happening underneath [in Bahrain],” says Maryam. “Distancing ourselves from this turmoil only makes it worse. The time is now for the international community to apply pressure on Bahrain and bring the human rights abuses to light.”

Written by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer at the IRCT

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Voices from Bahrain: Persecuted doctors continue struggle with BRAVO

Dr Nabeel Hameed is a neurosurgeon, one of only three in the entire country of Bahrain. Yet Wednesday he was sentenced to three months in prison and $700 in fines for the conviction of “illegal gathering” — one of 23 health professionals convicted on these charges.

Dr Hameed was among the physicians, nurses and medical staff of Salamaniya Hospital arrested for treating anti-government protestors during the demonstrations at Pearl Roundabout in March 2011. Their charges included inciting sectarian hatred, promoting the overthrow of the government, harbouring weapons, illegally occupying the hospital, and theft of hospital equipment.

Dr Nabeel Hameed, a Bahraini neurosurgeon, has joined other persecuted doctors to start BRAVO, the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization. Photo by Fabio Pereira.

During the brutal crackdown against the demonstrators, about 30 people were killed and hundreds injured, many of whom ended up in the largest hospital in the capital, Salamaniya.

On 15 March 2011, the Bahrain Defence Forces seized control of the hospital, eventually detaining and interrogating some 48 doctors, nurses, medics, ambulance drivers and other hospital staff. Many later came forth and reported that they were tortured while in detention – including Dr Hameed, who was arrested a month after the government seizure of the hospital and detained for about three months.

“We became automatic witnesses,” Hameed explained to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “That’s a problem. When we saw the protestors, straight away we became automatic witnesses. To take our credibility away, [they] accuse us of a crime.”

Hameed was accused of killing, rather than treating, a protester who had died at the hospital after his care. The interrogators claimed he had done so to tarnish the public image of Bahrain.

International human rights organisations, including the IRCT, Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights, as well as other groups such as the World Medical Association (WMA), condemned the arrest and detention of medical staff in Bahrain.

“While various criminal charges were brought it appears that the major offence was treating all the patients who presented for care, including leaders and members of the rebellion…” WMA wrote in their statement. The global organisation condemned the acts of the Bahraini government, saying it violated the hospital staff’s commitment to medical neutrality.

“If we help others, maybe we can also help ourselves”

The Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) emerged largely from the controversial targeting of doctors and medical staff. Four of the founders were physicians at Salmaniya medical centre.

“We started [BRAVO] out of a need,” he explains. “In some ways, we thought that if we can help others, maybe we can also help ourselves.”

Within a year of being established, BRAVO has already set up three programmes. They provide treatment for eye injuries, a devastatingly common occurrence now in Bahrain as buckshot is a common weapon used against protesters. Victims are, for example, given a glass eye and provided with therapy to train the remaining eye. They have also set up group therapy sessions for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Finally, they have a psychotherapy programme for the families of those imprisoned or tortured.

Hameed’s own family, he says, is doing as well as can be expected. His youngest son was born just a few months after his imprisonment. After being in Copenhagen for the last few days when we spoke, he was excited to get back to his “beautiful wife and kids.”

“But the children in Bahrain,” he says; “these days they’re playing with barricades instead of toy cars.”

There have been large, well-attended protests on the street in Bahrain, particularly in the capital Manama, since the start of the Arab Spring last year. But Bahrain hasn’t followed the narrative of Egypt or Tunisia; despite ongoing protests and a brutal crackdown in March of last year, there has been no change from the Al-Khalifa royal family rule.

In June of last year, the government commissioned an independent report on the allegations of human rights abuses in the country, called the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The BICI report, released in November 2011, was applauded for its forthrightness and frank examination of the abuses in the country, including violent police abuses on the streets and torture within detention facilities. Since the report, some changes have occurred – for example, the trials against the doctors moved to a civilian court instead of a military one; but many have criticized the lack of proper reform.

However, Hameed sees the government actions since the report as “beautified, not as flagrant violations” in comparison with the brutal treatment of 2011.

The government, he says, would like Bahrain to be viewed internationally as the pinnacle of human rights in the Arab world. And they have taken actions, even within recent weeks, to drain the opposition movement.

Indeed, in the days after I spoke with Hameed, 31 Bahrainis – opposition activists who had organised public protests – were stripped of their citizenship for undermining “state security”. Just a few days prior, the government banned public demonstrations, with the Interior Minister saying that “repeated abuse” of the rights to freedom of speech and expression could no longer be accepted.

It’s been the constant attacks and judicial harassment for his public speech that seems to have kept Hameed consistently aggrieved during this process. He stands firm on his right to freedom of expression. Despite the arrest, the torture, the ongoing court cases and the persistent threat of more, he’s defiant, not hostile, but decidedly non-compliant. He will continue to speak against the human rights abuses in Bahrain.

“I don’t mind them personally calling me a criminal. But not a traitor.”

Facing this most recent conviction, it is unknown whether Hameed will lose his license to practice medicine. For the time being though, there is some relief that at least he will not have to go to jail again – he has already served three months and will therefore not have to return. However, the fact that the judge in this case refused to hear any claims of torture from the medics, reflects much of the most recent criticism of Bahrain – that one year after the BICI report, few reforms have taken root.

Tessa is Communications Officer at IRCT.

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Bahrain jailing human rights defenders

Nabeel Rajab, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (at right), and Zainab Al-Khawaja (at left), a Bahrain human rights activist. Photos by Conor McCabe; available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The repression against protesters and human rights defenders in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain has been ongoing during the last 18 months. Beginning with the violent crackdown during the Arab Spring protests, the Bahraini state has been arresting, torturing and detaining human rights defenders, like Abduhadi Al-Khawaja.

Recent reports have emerged from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) that the judicial harassment of human rights defenders Zainab Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab has been stepped up to detain them on trumped-up charges for their legitimate protests activities against the state. In addition to supporting the work of human rights defenders, we at the IRCT are concerned for their safety; Bahrain has long established a pattern of torturing detainees, and we fear for the safety of Ms Al-Khawaja and Mr Rajab in light of their continued detention.

In our statement, we are echoing the call from BCHR for the Bahrain government to:

1. Immediately release detained human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja and drop all charges against them, as it is believed that these measures have been taken against them solely due to their legitimate and peaceful work in the defense of human rights, and the exercise of freedom to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in accordance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

2. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and activists including leading human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja;

3. Immediately put an end to the practice of torture and the ill-treatment of prisoners in Bahrain and bring those responsible to justice;

4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

We also reiterate our call to the international community to put real pressure on the government of Bahrain to stop the ill-treatment of human rights defenders and to to release them immediately as it is believed that they have been targeted solely for their legitimate human rights activities.

Please circulate this statement through your social networks – Facebook, Twitter – to draw attention to the plight of these detained human rights defenders.

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Those who treat torture survivors: bringing together rehabilitation professionals

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a week-long series from Lars Døssing Rosenmeier, who is writing from the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar in Amman, Jordan. The seminar is part of the European Commission-supported project, Non-State Actors, which you can read more about here.

Dr Fatima Hajji was one of 48 Bahraini doctors who were arrested and tortured during the Arab Spring uprising in spring of 2011. Now wanting to work to help other victims of torture, Dr Hajji is, together with the rest of the newly founded BRAVO organisation, working to establish a rehabilitation centre for torture victims in Bahrain.

Dr Haji, who has only recently had her travel ban lifted, joined more than a dozen other professionals this week at the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar in Amman, Jordan. The seminar, hosted by IRCT together with project partner Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC), brings together 19 professionals from 9 centres in 7 MENA countries.

Dr Joost den Otter, IRCT’s Clinical Director and Head of Health Team, speaks during the seminar Sunday in Amman, Jordan. The seminar brings together 19 professions from 9 rehabilitation centres in 7 countries.

Most of the MENA centres are strongly involved in the prevention of torture. Thus, in addition to focusing on how rehabilitation centres receive torture survivors and collect and use data on their cases, the seminar will cover the role of the medical professional and the rehabilitation centres as human rights advocates. Moreover, the arrest and torture of at least 48 doctors in Bahrain in the early spring of 2011 has highlighted the need for better protection of medical professionals in many countries.

Wissam Sehweil of the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, Occupied Palestine, presents the centre’s procedures for receiving survivors of torture.

During Sunday afternoon, four of the participating centres presented their specific intake procedures and the data collected during this procedure. The presentations and in-depth discussions will continue today and throughout the week.

“The timing of the workshop is perfect for BRAVO, because we just started structuring torture rehabilitation,” Dr Haji said. “This workshop helps us in getting it right from the beginning — using the best available tools for assessment and monitoring torture victims’ needs and standardised formats for better communication with international rehabilitation bodies rather than doing it later, which would be more difficult to redo it.”

Lars assists the membership team, focusing on management of the NSA project. The NSA project is supported by the European Commission.

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