Torture in death penalty in Bahrain

Speech delivered by our colleague Livia Tufano at the 2023 General Assembly of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty (WCADP), 23 June 2023, Nairobi, Kenya.

  1. Introduction

• Good afternoon everyone, my name is Livia Tufano, I am an advocate working with SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights. At SALAM, we are committed to promote respect for international human rights standards, protect fundamental freedoms and dignity, and to advance the principles of democracy and of the rule of law;

• SALAM DHR has been a member of the World Coalition since 2018, and we are honoured to be here today and to show our continued support and commitment to the common goal of this Assembly, the universal abolition of the death penalty;

• I would like to take this opportunity to thank again the World Coalition for allowing me to join you in person here in Nairobi and for their truly outstanding work in organising this Assembly;

• I will be speaking today on the use of torture in death penalty cases in Bahrain, and then I will give the floor to my colleague Drewery who will provide a comprehensive account on Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf;

• As an organisation which primarily focuses on the Gulf, we wish to bring a perspective from the region, on the use of the death penalty and its inextricable link to the use of torture, as well as to amplify the voices of the next generation of abolitionists;

2. Bahrain

• Bahrain is one of those Gulf countries, which, in spite of being to some extent the “lesser offender”, in comparison to Saudi Arabia for instance, shows a concerning record of human rights violations, including, but not limited to, the use of torture;

• Overview:

➡In January 2017, Bahrain lifted a moratorium on death penalty after a de-facto 7 years suspension;

➡As a result, in the past decade, the rate of death sentences in the country has increased by 600%, with 51 official new death sentences from 2011 to 2020, which we believe is an alarming and unsustainable trajectory. As of October 2021, 26 individuals, including 12 political prisoners, have exhausted all legal avenues for appeal; Now there are at least 41 individuals on death row.

➡In this regard, it is significant to note that around half, of those sentenced to death, are estimated to be non-Bahrainis. In 2021, at least 15 out of the then 26 on death row, were non-Bahrainis. It also appears here that the crimes are often motivated by financial hardship related to their poor employment conditions therefore suggesting that migrant workers live somewhat separate lives from Bahrainis.

➡In the majority of cases related to Bahraini nationals, the State relied on confessions coerced under torture and threats to sentence individuals to death. This is a practice largely used in Bahrain to permanently silence political dissent;

• Administration of justice:

➡Prohibition of torture is enshrined in Bahraini national legislation and the Kingdom is also a state party to the Convention against Torture. However, it appears that Bahraini authorities and Courts continue to disregard their own international obligations as well as national laws providing safeguards against the use of evidence obtained under torture in a court of law;

➡The inherent flaws and systematic issues within the structure of Bahrain’s administration of justice system allow for this practice to thrive. This is evident, at various stages of the process, beginning with (1) first, the arrests, which are based on provisions that do not amount to internationally recognisable criminal conduct and are often conducted without proper justification; (2) second, during the pre-trial detention phase, and it is at this time in which authorities are able to manipulate trials, extracting coerced confessions and therefore preventing lawyers to effectively defend their clients; and (3) finally, after conviction, when ill treatment may continue, through the use of solitary confinement and denial of medication;

➡The Bahraini judiciary has also shown a lack of commitment to properly investigate complaints and allegations of torture raised during the trials. The judiciary’s failure to exclude confessions obtained under torture, despite violating international conventions, the Bahraini constitution, and the penal code, has led to the imposition of death sentences based on unreliable evidence;

➡Ultimately, the monitoring bodies established by the Bahraini authorities, such as the Ombudsman Secretariat, the Special Investigation Unit, and the National Institution forHuman Rights, have shown little progress in addressing the complaints filed by victims and their relatives. This includes cases of physical and sexual violence against both men and women, with many victims fearing reprisals and thus, choosing not to utilize the available complaints mechanisms;

➡The National Institution for Human Rights, specifically, has failed to hold the authorities accountablefortheircontinuedhumanrightsviolations,includingthesystematic use of torture.

• As a result, over the past decade, Bahrain has witnessed a troubling pattern of individuals being coerced into confessing under torture and a culture of impunity has been allowed to flourish;

3. Documented cases

• In May 2020, SALAM DHR wrote via email to the Office of the Ombudsman in relation to 12 cases of Bahrainis sentenced to death;

• We sought, amongst other things, information about the evidence used and the precise date the defendants were granted effective access to independent legal representation;

• We also called on the GoB to release forensic reports in relation to eight of those cases and explained that independent scrutiny would provide reassurance that due process standards were followed; However, they never responded.

• We believe that in each of the 12 cases, there was evidence of both unfair trial as well as torture or ill-treatment as part of the convictions;

• Two of those cases are particularly instructive – that of Mohamed Ramadhan and Hussein Ali Moosa;

Both men were arrested in February 2014, accused of killing a police officer, and subjected to torture and forced to make a confession.

In December 2014, they were convicted on terrorism related charges and sentenced to death. In 2016, the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing concern over their alleged torture and death sentences. In March 2018, the Special Investigations Unit requested that the cases be returned to the Court of Cassation for re-examination considering the presentation of medical reports that had been prepared by doctors affiliated to the Ministry of Interior, indicating the two men had been tortured. However, in January 2020, the court of Appealreinstated the death sentence for both men, despite evidence that they were tortured during their interrogation.

Their cases highlight the flawed nature of the Bahraini legal system, both in the use of confessions extracted under torture, which is contrary to national and international standards, and in the inability or unwillingness of Bahrain’s internal mechanisms of accountability to conduct impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and mis-treatment;

• In spite of the evidence and testimonies of these cases sourced from international institutions and fellow human rights organisations, the GoB has consistently failed to implement substantial reforms concerning the use of torture, and has shown its unwillingness to reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty, as attested by during the latest UN GA Resolution of December 2022;

4. Conclusion:

• In conclusion, since the aftermath of the Pearl Uprising, the GoB has made promises of accommodation and reform, but these pronouncements mask a system that primarily relies on fear in order to regulate its communities. A central element of this culture of fear, is the use of torture.

• Bahrain should aim to commute all capital sentences against individuals whose trials were marred by due process violations, such as allegations of torture.

• Furthermore, it should launch full and independent investigations into the cases of individuals sentenced to death who have alleged due process violations and torture during their trial and detention, in order to hold accountable those responsible and end this culture of impunity within the country’s judicial system.

• And, ultimately, Bahrain should align its practices to its international commitments in addition to ratifying the Optional Protocol to the UN Committee Against Torture and allow visits from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.