Bahrain press conference 11.00 Tuesday September 7, 10.30 at Abbey Gardens
Introductory remarks by Eric Avebury
We’re holding this press conference to highlight the sharp deterioration in human rights that has occurred in recent weeks in Bahrain, and particularly the torture being inflicted on detainees when they are held incommunicado for 15 days before they are allowed to see a lawyer. Some have then managed to speak about their treatment and it appears that most of the estimated 200 detainees are being subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
Dr Abduljalil al-Singace, head of human rights for the opposition Haq movement, was arrested on August 15 as he got off the plane from London, where he had been speaking at a meeting chaired by my colleague Baroness Falkner. When he finally got to say what had been happening to him 12 days later, he told the attorney-general that he had been held in solitary confinement; he had been handcuffed and blindfolded for the whole time; extensively beaten on his fingers and slapped everywhere; refused access to the shower and the toilet, and deprived of sleep. His nipples and ears were pulled and twisted with tongs.
Dr al-Singace is disabled, having suffered from polio. Officials took his crutches and wheelchair away at the moment of his arrest, and he was forced to crawl whenever he left his cell for any reason. He was forced to stand for long periods of time, and was compelled to sign documents without being given a chance to read them.
A day later, August 28, according to Human Rights Watch, three other well-known human rights activists, Abd-al Ghani al-Khanjar, Sheikh Said al-Nuri and Sheikh Muhammad Habib al-Moqdad related similar experiences, adding that they had been hung from their handcuffed wrists while being beaten, and witnesses confirmed that there were marks on their hands and feet that were consistent with their evidence. Abd-al Ghani al-Khanjar is spokesperson for the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, and another regular and welcome contributor to the human rights seminars on Bahrain we hold in the House of Lords, including the one chaired by Baroness Falkner on August 5. It begins to look as though anybody who criticises the al-Khalifa regime or their human rights record at our seminars is treated automatically as attempting to overthrow the government, a charge now made against Mr al-Singace.
At the same time, huge advertisements have been appearing all over the capital saying that the detainees are guilty, obviously funded by the regime, in breach of Article 14 of the ICCPR, which provides that
“Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”
The state-controlled media, including the radio and TV, are also campaigning to persuade the public that the detainees are guilty. The Minister of Justice, a member of the ruling family needless to say, is pressing leading political, religious and social figures including the heads of political societies, to come out with statements supporting the arrests. And of course, there is no way the opposition can express itself but on the streets. There are nightly demonstrations but as the Financial Times reported last Wednesday, anybody who takes part runs a high risk of a beating or disappearance.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on international human rights organisations to demand that systematic torture be ended and the National Security Apparatus be dissolved. Detainees should be allowed family visits, and private meeting with their lawyers. Human rights activists, who are only doing their job, should be released unconditionally. The Anti-Terrorist Law, which allows the arbitrary arrest and detention and unfair trials of peaceful political activists must be repealed. I would add to the BCHR list, that the UN Rapporteur on Torture should be invited to nominate an independent physician who would be allowed access to the detainees, to report on their allegations of torture, and if they are found to have substance, that there should be a further inquiry by an independent lawyer, to ascertain who was responsible.
None of the reforms that are necessary will happen unless Bahrain’s allies join the international human rights NGOs in expressing their concerns. The UK in particular has a role to play, because one of the torture victims, Jaffar al-Hasabi, is a British national. Like the four main activists, he was hung from his wrists, beaten all over, and deprived of sleep. We haven’t forgotten that under the previous Ruler, the torture machine was under the command of a Brit, Ian Henderson, who was never punished for his crimes against humanity. If he had ever been brought to trial, he might have been able to show that he was acting under orders from higher up, and the best way to demonstrate that what is happening in the torture chambers today is not authorised from the top would be to charge the torturers and release the victims. That is what the Foreign Secretary should be demanding in the case of our own citizen.
"As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say, Civis Romanus sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him from injustice and wrong."
YouTube report of the meeting: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dlxmpacCts