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HRW: Bahrain security forces detain, abuse children

Published time: September 16, 2013 13:16
Edited time: September 16, 2013 19:13
Young Bahraini boys.(AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

Young Bahraini boys.(AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

Bahrain’s law enforcement has made a habit of regularly detaining children, who are forced to undergo humiliation and cruel treatment often bordering on torture, according to victim, family and activist reports compiled by Human Rights Watch(HRW).

The testimonies reveal that children are being held for as long as adults and suffer the same amount of bodily harm, which often includes beatings. This is further supplemented by the denial to detainees of their basic rights to an attorney or a social worker, and the fact that many confessions are simply forced out of minors by Bahrain’s security apparatus.

At the very least this goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which emphasizes governments’ responsibility to protect children under 18 from such practices.

Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, says that “Rounding up kids, throwing them in jail and beating and threatening them is no way for a country to treat its children… The Bahraini authorities need to look into these allegations and immediately call a halt to any arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of children.”

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has issued condemnation for these continued attacks on the families of political dissidents and their children. They have been going on since the unsuccessful Bahraini Arab Spring of 2011.

But sporadic unrest continues and anti-government sentiments attract a vast number of underage youths. August saw 15 detentions, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told HRW. And they happen in such numbers that there are no resources to document each one and ascertain whether they were carried out in line with the law. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights listed 22 arrests since the start of August.

Sayed Alwadeai in London on September 12, 2013.(Photo by Human Rights Watch)

One testimony was related to an incident that took place at a swimming pool some youngsters had rented to enjoy one final night before school started. Having arrived at 4am, the police tied them up and kicked them around before taking them to a detention center. No attorneys or social workers were provided and the boys’ parents only found out four days later where their children were being held. All this was done for the purpose of extracting a confession from the group that they were involved in attacking a police building with Molotov cocktails.

Another incident involved the early morning arrest of, Ali Rustam, 15, on September 8. His parents still haven’t had any contact with him, a situation made all the worse by the fact that Ali has diabetes and requires four daily injections of insulin.

In one extreme case, police allegedly promised a lawyer they would “look into it” when he asked for leniency towards his client because he was a minor. That minor was taken to a detention facility where he spent 45 days before being released on bail.   

Sayed Alwadaei was detained twice, each time alleging he was tortured. The first happened when he was still 17 – a child under international law. The 45 days he was kept in detention were spent together with adult prisoners as the children’s wing was full, police claimed.

The second time Alwadaei was arrested was in his car, with friends. Non-uniformed police units pulled him over on a supposed warrant for his arrest, but instead of taking him to a police station as they said they would, he was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Unit (CID). There he was handcuffed, blindfolded and accused of burning tires at a protest, which he denied at first.

Anti-government protesters defying a ban on protest marches, shout anti-government slogans in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, September 13, 2013.(Reuters / Hamad I Mohammed)

But as Alwadaei told HRW, the rules seemed to go, “In this place, you have no choice… you confess to whatever they want you to.” He was allegedly threatened with rape if he did not comply. After forcing the confession out of him, the boy was held another 15 days and again released on bail. He is now due to face trial on charges of illegal gathering and inciting hatred against the regime.

The numerous cases all involve unnecessary beatings, forcefully extracted confessions, as well as police cover-ups of these practices.

June 2011 saw a review of Bahrain’s adherence to the Convention, and it was less than satisfactory. The Committee on the Rights of the Child had underlined “with concern reports according to which torture and other forms of ill-treatment were used by the state party during the recent political events.”

Two years on, in 2013, The European Parliament on September 12 has issued a fresh resolution on the country’s progressively worsening human rights situation, where it recommends that the government “respect the rights of juveniles, to refrain from detaining them in adult facilities, and to treat juveniles in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bahrain is a party.”

Human Rights Watch says more than 80 people have died in uprisings since they began in February 2011, when a Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni Khalifa dynasty resulted in security forces crushing the revolt and killing dozens in the process. Sporadic unrest has been going on since.

One of the most vocal critics of the government, activist Nabeel Rajab, has been serving a three-year term in jail since August 2012.

Recently the government has allowed the public to hold sanctioned peaceful protests – and the people do that – but life in Bahrain appears to be a long way from changing, with many continuing to see the reforms as window-dressing, while all decision-making powers continue to rest with the monarchic regime.

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