Maryam AlKhawaja asks “What happens when the cameras are gone?”

With the race now over, Maryam AlKhawaka, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, writes for The Independent:

There are those who say that the Formula One should not be canceled, but instead used as an opportunity to get media attention for the situation on the ground. It is true that media attention is not only appreciated, but also crucial to improving the situation on the ground in Bahrain. The question is not whether Bahraini’s benefit from the media attention which will highlight their plight as they continue their struggle for rights and freedoms, but rather what takes place during the race – and more importantly, what happens after the cameras are gone.

Salah Abbas Habib was well respected amongst the protesters. He was a father of four young children, and their only provider. During last year’s race, he was stopped by security forces, severely beaten, and shot with pellets. His dead body was found the next morning.

A group of minors were arrested in April 2012 in preparation for the Formula One. Some of them were thrown off the roof of the house they were in. They were reportedly severely beaten, which in some cases amounted to torture. They remained in prison until June that year. Some are currently in hiding, because they are wanted by authorities. Others are in prison after getting sentenced. The plight of these minors did not stop with the end of the race.

On the afternoon of the April 18, 2013, security forces arrested four children in Bani Jamrah. One of these children was 13-year-old Mahdi Salah Al-Khawaja. When Mahdi was just 11 years old, security forces pointed a gun to his face as they raided his family home. He then watched as his father was beaten severely, taken up to the roof, thrown off, then taken away. His mother was taken into a room and sexually assaulted. His father was subjected to severe torture then sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, which he continues to serve today. Mahdi has been traumatized for two years, and today he was arrested, hit on the head and held at a police station for several hours.

The question then, is not whether the media attention accompanying the race is important or not, the question is who will compensate the victims of this race for the price of getting that attention? When the cameras are gone, the crackdown intensifies as revenge, and the world is no longer paying attention; who will take care of Salah Ali’s children? Who will provide a safe place for the minors on the run? And who will hold Mahdi’s hand if he’s afraid of the dark?

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NGOs release two new reports on torture in Bahrain

On Friday, REDRESS and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) issued a significant new report on torture in Bahrain. Entitled Bahrain: Fundamental Reform or torture without end? the report describes torture as “an integral part of the ongoing crisis in Bahrain. The press release reads in part:

In 2011 the Bahrain International Commission of Inquiry (BICI) found that torture and ill-treatment had been used systematically to respond to protests in Bahrain. While the Government of Bahrain has taken some steps to implement the recommendations of the BICI, torture and ill-treatment continue and obligations towards victims have not been met.

“Bahrain must address the legacy of torture and ill-treatment, as the practice continues to be documented in a number of different contexts, both in detention and by riot police who are ostensibly controlling protests,” said Lutz Oette, counsel at REDRESS. “Providing victims of torture and ill-treatment the reparation promised after the BICI report, and guaranteed to them under international law constitutes an overdue and important first step towards that end.”

Earlier today, the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation (BRAVO) issued its latest report: Resurgence of Sexual Violence as a Torture Technique in Bahrain. The report summary reads:

Sexual violence in its many forms has re-emerged as a torture technique in Bahrain. The Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry report contains a disturbing litany of testimonies from victims of sexual violence occurring since February 2011.

Human Rights Watch had noted ongoing violations before 2010 but there has been a dramatic upsurge in rape, sodomy, sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of detainees in recent years.

Despite numerous testimonies and the findings of the BICI report the Bahraini government denies that sexual violence occurs in their prisons and detention centers.
Bahrain is a signatory of the Convention Against Torture and should repeal laws such as Law 56, 2002, which offers impunity for those responsible.

BRAVO calls for an independent review of all claims of sexual violence against detainees in Bahrain under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The reports come just days after the death of Colonel Ian Henderson, a British citizen who, for several decades, headed state security in Bahrain as an advisor to the government. Grave accusations of torture have been leveled against Henderson, earning him the nickname “The Butcher of Bahrain”. In 1984, he received a CBE from Queen Elizabeth, for his “services to British interests in Bahrain”. Middle East expert Emile Nakleh, who encountered Henderson in the 1970s, wrote about him yesterday in a piece entitled: Ian Henderson and Repression in Bahrain: A Forty-Year Legacy.

Sheikh Nasser’s Foundation gives the Bahrain International Circuit an F1 Simulator

Bahrain state media reports on Sheikh Nasser, one of King Hamad’s sons:

The Nasser bin Hamad Foundation has presented a Formula 1 car simulator to the Bahrain International Circuit as a contribution from the foundation to promote the campaign of the circuit, “the home of motorsport in the Middle East”, to host the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix from April 19 to 21.

The initiative of His Highness Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa is an affirmation from His Highness to the importance of playing an active part in supporting the Kingdom in embracing this wonderful international event, which enhances Bahrain’s reputation on the international sporting arena.

Sheikh Nasser is a controversial figure who is accused of being involved in torture during the government crackdown in 2011. He denies the allegations.

Last year, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) submitted evidence to the British government calling on them to prevent him attending the London Olympics in his role as the head of Bahrain’s Olympic committee. They were unsuccessful in their attempt. The Guardian reported at the time:

Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa is claimed to have been “personally engaged” in beating, flogging and kicking pro-democracy protestors during Bahrain’s brief chapter in the Arab spring last year.

Documents submitted to David Cameron and William Hague, the foreign secretary, and seen by the Guardian, describe how Sheikh Nasser launched “a punitive campaign to repress Bahraini athletes who had demonstrated their support (for) the peaceful pro-democracy movement.

“Following his directives more than 150 professional athletes, coaches and referees were subjected to arbitrary arrests, night raids, detention, abuse and torture by electric cables and other means,” said the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a Berlin-based group.

Mohammed Hassan Jawad described how he and Mohammed Habeebe al-Muqdad were treated by the king’s son at Manama Fort prison clinic on April 9 after they had taken part in a demonstration calling for the overthrow of the regime. “He started abusing us, began to flog, beat and kicked us everywhere,” Jawad told a dissident newspaper quoted by the ECCHR. “He took a rest and drank water and then resumed the torture by pulling us from our hair and beards. No one else was involved in our torture and hence agony… He ordered the jailers to put our feet up to beat us. The torture continued for almost half a day until dawn.”