The Bahrain Court of Cassation, the country’s court of last resort, upheld the death sentence against two men on May 6, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. A court convicted the men, Ali al-Arab and Ahmad al-Malali, of terror offenses in a mass trial on January 31, 2018.
Bahrain ended a de facto seven-year moratorium on the death penalty in January 2017, when it executed three men. Under Bahraini law, after the Court of Cassation confirms a death sentence, the decision is sent to the King, who has the power to ratify the sentence, commute it, or grant a pardon. On April 26, 2018, King Hamad commuted the sentences of four men who were sentenced to death in a military trial in December 2017. According to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, eight people are currently on death row in Bahrain.
“Despite its rhetoric on reform, Bahrain is moving in the wrong direction by reinstating the death penalty,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This irreversible punishment is cruel in all cases, but all the more so here amid evidence that the accused were tortured and denied fair trials.”
The two men were arrested separately on February 9, 2017 and sentenced with 58 other defendants on January 31, 2018, in a trial marred by allegations of torture and due process violations. Al-Arab’s family told Human Rights Watch that interrogators at the Criminal Investigations Directorate beat him severely, used electric shocks on him, and pulled out his toenails, after which they forced him to sign a confession while blindfolded.
Al-Arab did not have access to lawyer during his interrogation and saw his lawyer for the first time during his first court hearing, family members said. When al-Arab’s family saw him for the first time at the Dry Dock prison, the 25-year-old man was brought out in a wheelchair due, they believed, to beatings on his legs.
In a letter to the Bahraini government on July 6, 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and its special rapporteur on torture expressed “grave concern” about al-Arab’s allegations of torture at the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the Dry Dock prison. The Bahraini government responded, claiming that all the allegations were “false,” contending that al-Arab did not report being tortured during the investigation and that neither he nor anyone acting on his behalf had complained to the Interior Ministry’s Ombudsman.
However, al-Arab’s family told Human Rights Watch that they had submitted two complaints to the Ombudsman. Further, court records Human Rights Watch reviewed indicate that al-Arab’s defense stated that his confession was obtained under torture.
On December 11, 2018, three UN human rights experts sent another letter to the Bahraini government expressing extreme concern about the imposition of the death penalty on several defendants, including al-Arab and al-Malali, amid allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture. The letter said that al-Malali, 24, was shot during his arrest, but that doctors did not remove the bullets until 23 days later. The experts also said that al-Malali was prevented from meeting with a lawyer and allegedly tortured at the Criminal Investigations Directorate, then forced to sign a confession.
The court documents reviewed state that a forensic examination report found injuries on al-Malali’s right wrist as a result of being hit by shrapnel during his arrest.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented torture in the Criminal Investigations Directorate, including the use of electric shocks, suspension in painful positions, severe beatings, threats to rape and kill, and sexual abuse. Many of the detainees interviewed said that interrogators boasted of their reputation for torturing detainees. Many of those abused at the facility reported signing forced confessions.
The UN Committee against Torture has raised concerns about Bahrain’s oversight bodies, including the Ombudsman, and said that these entities were neither independent nor effective. Since their establishment in 2012, they have repeatedly failed to investigate credible allegations of prison abuse or to hold officials who participated in and ordered widespread torture during interrogations since 2011 accountable.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Bahrain’s use of the death penalty is contrary to international human rights law, statements of UN human rights experts, and various UN bodies. Human rights law upholds every human being’s “inherent right to life” and limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or serious bodily harm.
Bahrain should join the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, a move by UN member countries toward abolition of the death penalty. King Hamad should exercise his authority in this case to halt the executions and move to abolish capital punishment outright.
Bahrain’s European allies should use their leverage to press Bahrain to abolish the death penalty, or at the very least, to reinstate the moratorium on executions.
“The death sentence is irreversible, and any doubt that is cast on the fairness of the trial should be grounds to commute the sentence,” Fakih said. “The death penalty is an archaic punishment that should be halted immediately.”