Bahrain: Unfair trial and refusal to investigate alleged torture and attempted sexual assault of Mr Abdulhadi Alkhawaja

Following reports of torture including an attempted rape against former Front Line Protection Coordinator Abdulhadi Alkhawaja there are grave concerns that his health and even his life may be in danger.

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is currently on trial as part of a group of 21 individuals facing a variety of charges including ”organising and managing a terrorist organisation” and “attempt to overthrow the government by force and in liaison with a terrorist organisation working for a foreign country”. Front Line considers his trial proceedings to fall grossly short of international fair trial standards.

Further Information

On 16 May 2011, during a session of his ongoing trial before a military court, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja alleged that he had been tortured but was silenced by the Judges who refused to order any investigation of the allegation. The Judges have also failed to listen to or investigate claims about torture made by Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and other defendants at previous hearings.

In a brief meeting with his family on the same day, 16 May, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja reportedly stated that the security forces had attempted to force him to record on videotape an apology to the King of Bahrain. He said he told them that he had nothing to apologise for. The security forces then reportedly tried to forcibly remove his clothes and sexually assault him to force him to make such an apology. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja told his family that he was handcuffed at the time and fell to the ground as he attempted to defend himself against the attackers suffering further injuries to his head, falling briefly unconscious.

Witnesses to a previous court appearance have reported that Abdulhadi Alkhawaja bears the scars of having been beaten and a resulting operation on his head at a military hospital. There are reports of at least four deaths in custody in the last six weeks amongst those detained by the Bahraini security forces.

Front Line sent two English-based barristers to Bahrain in the last three weeks to seek access to Abdulhadi Alkhawaja for his family and lawyer and to seek to observe the proceedings in the military court. The barrister was denied entry to observe the proceedings on 12 May contrary to a previous unequivocal pledge made by the Bahraini authorities in which they stated that “attending trials is permitted for all civil society institutions, human rights organisations and media representatives to reflect the Kingdom's keenness to respect its international commitments in the field of human rights.”

On the basis of analysis of the proceedings so far, Front Line has concluded that the trial falls grossly short of international fair trial standards. The following are some of the main concerns as emerged so far:

1. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was severely beaten when he was detained from his daughter's home on 9 April 2011. He was held incommunicado and reported that he was tortured.

2. He was denied access to his lawyer during his initial 20 days in detention. He has subsequently only had brief access to his lawyer at the time of his appearances before the military court. This constitutes a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Bahrain is party, namely its Article 14 which requires States to ensure access to full access to legal representation and adequate time to prepare the defence.

3. He is being tried before a military court which describes itself as the “Bahraini Lower National Safety Court”. There are reportedly three judges, one military and two civilian, but the trial is taking place in the military court, the military judge is reportedly in charge of proceedings and the prosecutor is also from the military. Front Line is concerned about the bringing of civilians to trial before a military court, in open contradiction of established international jurisprudence.It is also of dubious legality under Bahraini law and the Bahraini Constitution, and defendants tried under this Court have attempted to challenge Its constitutionality. However, an appeal to the Constitutional Court in this regard was refused by the National Safety Court.

4. The sitting of the Bahraini Lower National Safety Court in Abdulhadi Alkhawaja's trial also appears to be unconstitutional on the basis that, inter alia, some of the charges brought against the defendant had been made before this court was established in accordance with a State of National Safety declared by the King of Bahrain on 15 March 2011.

5. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja attempted to speak at each of his trial hearings on the 9th, 12th and 16th of May and make complaints about the torture he claims to have endured. On each occasion he was silenced by the judges who refused to investigate the claims of torture. This constitutes a violation of Bahrain international obligations under Article 12 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which it acceded to on 6 March 1998. CAT Article 12 requires States to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed. The visible signs on Abdulhadi Alkhawaja's face, as detailed above, do provide strong indication that an act of torture was committed.

6. Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and his family were intimidated by court officials who seemed to consider them responsible for the presence of international trial observers. During the hearing of 12 May, the Alkhawaja family was eventually not allowed to see him in apparent retaliation for the presence of trial observers in the court building.

7. He is a former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and was until February 2011 employed by Front Line as its Middle East and North Africa Protection Coordinator. He stepped down from this international role with Front Line to engage with the peaceful protests in Bahrain. On 21 April 2011 human rights defenders from across the Middle East and North Africa region who have direct experience of his support for them as part of his work to protect human rights defenders in the region issued a statement in his support.