Three years after the Saudi military intervention
Bahrain at cross roads
Dr Mahmood Al Fardan: Board member of Bahrain Salaam for Human Rights
Bahraini medics among first victims of Saudi invasion
Rori Donaghy, Campaign manager, Emirates Centre for Human Rights
Torture and Enforced Disappearances in UAE
Raza Kazim, Islamic Human Rights Commission
Saudis have flouted all human rights norms
In the early hours of 15th March 2011, columns of Saudi heavy machinery crossed the causeway linking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to crush the people’s Revolution. The move was crucial to the temporary survival of the Alkhalifa regime. Today, the regime is as embattled and shaky as it was then. How do Bahrainis view this military intervention? Why has the West remained silence on the infringement by Saudi forces of the international borders? And what prospects remain for amicable solution?
Press conference: Monday 10th March, 2014
Lord Avebury, vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group: Salam alaikum, and welcome to this press conference to mark the intervention by Saudi And UAE forces in Bahrain which started three years ago and has continued ever since.
I’m sure it is clear, and has always been so to the media representatives who have attended these meetings over a period of some 20 years, that we have tried to present the views of the opposition in Bahrain and that nobody has ever been under the misapprehension that what is said here represents the views of the House of Lords. Individual contributors have their own slant on the events we discuss, though all are agreed that the people of Bahrain and their rulers are at a cross roads.
Do they proceed along the path of reform, where in the words of Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
“.. they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural rights”
Or are they stuck in the rut of a dictatorship and a false process of dialogue leading nowhere? Not only have the al-Khalifas not moved a centimetre towards democracy, but they have tortured and locked up all those who speak up for democracy and human rights. Among some 3,000 political prisoners are every single one of the previous speakers at these press conferences who returned to Bahrain: Hassan Mushaime, Leader of the Haq Movement; Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; Abduljalil al-Singace, Head of the Haq Movement’s Human Rights Bureau; Nabeel Rajab, President of the Gulf Center for Human Rights; Mohammed al-Tajer, a human rights lawyer who defended peaceful protesters; Ibrahim Sharif, General Secretary of the secular liberal National Democratic Action Society; Abdulwahab Hussain, a political activist who played a leading role in 2011.
The government’s policy of arresting, torturing and handing out long prison sentences to their opponents has largely been met by peaceful protests in the past, but as civilians continue to be tortured and killed in custody, some individuals have retaliated. Thus after the torture and death in custody on February 27 of 22-year old Jaffer al Durazi, a bomb killed three policemen in Daih from the UAE, Pakistan and Yemen, also injuring some others. The police then inflicted an unlawful collective punishment on the village, and attacked the headquarters of Al Wefaq and three political organisations were arbitrarily listed as terrorists.
The late President John F Kennedy said
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.
That wise statement is being played out on the streets of Bahrain. The provocative use of foreign security forces, brought in and naturalised to oppress the native population and ultimately to create a Sunni majority which might show gratitude and loyalty to the autocrats, is calculated to make peaceful opponents despair, particularly when it is accompanied by systematic displacement of Shias from positions of responsibility and authority throughout higher education, health services and business. The appearance of a UAE officer in the Daih casualty list also gives the lie to the statement that GCC forces have had no part in the direct policing of disturbances. But increasingly, the role of the GCC in Bahrain, and parallels between the violations of human rights in the various Gulf autocracies, must come under public scrutiny.
The Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has just reported on a visit to UAE and Qatar at the end of January, but has never been to Bahrain, though in both countries dissidents are convicted on evidence obtained by means of torture. The existence of a Joint Security Pact between the UAE and Bahrain promotes exchange of information between the two states about their peaceful opponents, facilitating their persecution. Both states freely use torture against political prisoners, and in neither state are freedoms of expression and assembly respected. The same is true in spades in regard to Saudi Arabia, which escapes cutting edge censure because it supplies much of our oil and is a major customer for our weapons.
Two major shortcomings of the Special Procedures generally are that they don’t consider transnational human rights phenomena and they don’t report on credible evidence unless it is confirmed by visits. Thus in the case of the Gulf countries which are ruled bySunni monarchies, the common threat of persecution and marginalisation of their Shia populations is ignored, and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion has never visited any of those countries, a matter I hope will be raised with him at the meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.
All the UN Special Procedures should be able to issue reports based on reliable testimony from the media, NGOs and multiple corroborating statements from private individuals. Otherwise, states can avoid criticism merely by postponing the visits by the Special Procedures indefinitely, as has happened in the case of Bahrain with the Special Rapporteur on Torture. But why has there been no word by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, with 3,412 people in detention last Friday? Why has the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers not looked at the proceedings of the kangaroo courts which sentenced the Bahrain 13 to long periods of imprisonment based on testimonies extracted by means of torture? Why has the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion not commented on the total exclusion of the Shia from the professions, education, broadcasting, health and government, and the expulsion of thousands of Shia migrant workers? We know that the Special Procedures are starved of resources because countries like Bahrain don’t want them to work, but the stakeholders do have the opportunity of raising their voices at the open sessions of the Human Rights Council this week.
The questions of human rights, democracy and good governance were all originally taken up by the opposition on a non-sectarian basis, but they have been forced into a sectarian mould by the treatment of the Shia population. The allies of the al-Khalifas in this project are Salafists, a hardline extremist group with an ideology ain to the Wahabisn of Saudi Arabia, which denies the right of Shias to call themselves Muslim and in some countries are calling for their annihilation, They are increasingly infiltrating government, though it has to be said, the regime has already been carrying out their programme without needing to be prompted.
Christopher Davidson, in his book After the Sheikhs, predicts the collapse of the Gulf monarchies due to mounting internal pressures, including the wholesale persecution of their Shia populations. The short term interests of the west, and of the UK in particular, rely heavily on the maintenance of stability in the region, so we should be working hard to counter the sectarianism of these autocracies, and to promote democratic inclusivity in which all citizens are equal, and all systems of religion or belief are protected. These principles should take priority over alliances with rulers whose main object is to stay in power, and to grab the wealth that belongs as of right to their people.
Dr Mahmood Al Fardan: Board member of Bahrain Salaam for Human Rights: I am an emergency specialist who has been working in Selmaniya medical complex for about 12 years when the hospital was seized and occupied by the military forces after the imposition of martial law and the invasion of Saudi troops into Bahrain. I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about what happened.
If anybody wants to talk about the Bahrain revolution I think nobody will ignore Pearl roundabout and nobody will ignore what happened in Selmaniya Medical Complex. I would like to tell you about why medics have been targeted. When anyone wants a credible source of news he will look at BBC or CNN or any source that is credible. So medical personnel were the credible sources for information regarding the numbers of injured protesters and the types of injuries. This was the place where all the information about the protesters and the injured persons could be obtained.
The second thing is that medics are the first witnesses. It came to the mind of the regime that there could be a time when justice would come and we are the first witnesses. They decided to destroy all the evidence about the crimes and the events. I remember March 16th the day when they attacked the roundabout. At the time of the attack they also seized the hospital and many tanks and military forces attacked the hospital and they closed all the main gates.
No single patient or injured protestor was allowed to enter the hospital. No single ambulance was allowed to go the roundabout and bring patients. We heard the news while we are in the hospital. We heard that there were multiple injuries throughout the country and mainly in the site of the roundabout.
I will not take a lot of time to describe in detail what happened because most of us can find the information through google and u-tube. One can see how the medical personnel were attacked and abused in many ways: the abuse ranged from verbal to physical. I am one of those who has been targeted when I was on call the night after martial law was declared. I still remember the day when masked men attacked the hostel where the doctors were resting at night. I was beaten and that is what made me think about what would happen if a doctor has been beaten inside the hospital. I wondered what would happen inside the prison if they detain you where nobody can listen to screams or see what is happening.
At that point I decided to leave the country with my family. That happened to many families and medical personnel. Many of our colleagues were arrested and tortured. The Bassouini Commission when it started its work, documented the abuse and many human rights violations against our medics.
So what are the consequences of this? Unfortunately the targeting still continues by the media and by the pro-government medics. Until today they still describe their colleagues as traitors. They are asking to apply even the brutal rules to our colleagues.
I will show you some of the things which have been written against the media by our people from the pro-government medical doctors. One doctor said on twitter: It takes only the F16’s to clear all the dirt from the villages. So we have a lot of F16’s but we are nice. We are too nice but if push comes to shove then only one then only one F16 will do the whole job. We are strong. This is an emergency consultant in Bahrain who is supposed to treat people.”
The issue still continues. They are publicising photos of the medical personnel who protested. They are portrayed as traitors and there was a description of the occupation of Selmaniyah Medical Centre by pro-Iran terrorists. You can see the photos of who is protesting. They are medics and civilians demanding the patients rights – not their rights. They are protesting for the right medical services to be provided.
The government sometimes complains that the medics were involved in politics and that we started to demonstrate in the hospital. That is not true. We protested from 17th February 2011. On that the ambulances were prevented from attending to the injured protesters at Pearl Roundabout. This is before the Saudi invasion and before martial law was declared. So from that we started asking and protesting. It was not during our work time. It was after our working time. I remember we started to demonstrate after 3pm when most of work was done. The people who were on call stayed in the hospital.
Because they were prevented from coming to the hospital to be treated many people and many demonstrators now unfortunately are still not coming to the hospital because of fear of arrests and interrogation. This has led to many complications and disabilities. As we know ordinary people would not differentiate between normal trauma, critical trauma and simple trauma. So they can’t advise which person should be taken to the hospital. We would prefer a protester with serious injuries to be treated even if he is arrested. That is one of the major problems which is facing our demonstrators in Bahrain.
We hope that one day this will end and that the people will get their rights and receive normal treatment and medical care which is supposed to be available in an oil-rich country. This is a brief account of what is happening. Most of our medical personnel are still being targeted and forced to leave the government sector and work in the private sector or leave the country and go to neighbouring countries like the Gulf countries. It is also impossible now as there are a lot of instructions to the governments of the GCC countries not to allow these medics to get work in those countries. Personally I have friends in GGC countries whose contracts have been terminated on the advise of the government.
Lord Avebury: Thank you very much Dr Al Fardan. I must say that the medics have paid a heavy price for their temerity in protesting peacefully. Their activities are perfectly ordinary in any other country, but not in Bahrain. It is a tragedy for the health services of Bahrain that so many able people have been sacked and forced into exile. The situation of the medics shows the attitude of the government to any form of peaceful activity. The courage in speaking out and upholding the principle that every doctor has to subscribe to – to treat people irrespective of their political or religious affiliation. That you very much Dr Al Fardan.
Lord Avebury: That gives you a taste of the horrific injuries that are inflicted on the peaceful protesters and the indomitable spirit of the people in resisting the violence of their opprerssors.
Rori Donaghy, Campaign manager, Emirates Centre for Human Rights, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in UAE: Thanks to the organisers for giving me the opportunity to speak about what is happening in the UAE. We have not seen mass protests and violence on the streets of the UAE the authorities have responded to a burgeoning political opposition through a variety of means of oppression.
This is the third anniversary of the Bahraini uprising. It is also the third anniversary of a petition sent to the UAE’s rulers from Emirati intellectuals and scholars who called for democracy. The authorities response to that petition over the past three years has been to arrest the signers, detain them for months without charge, allegedly torture them, subject them to unfair trials and pass a series of repressive legislative measures that restricts the criticism of the authorities online. The reason I am here talking to you today rather than an Emirati is because the vast majority of the activists are either barred from travelling or are in prison themselves.
I will just give a brief over view of what has happened, including the political prisoner population, the issue of forced disappearances and torture in the UAE, how the crackdown itself has expanded in recent months and give some possible explanations about why the opposition has grown in the UAE over the past three years and mention the role of the international community in all of this.
The political prisoner population in the UAE. There are 120 know political prisoners in the UAE many of whom have been detained for months without charge and others who have been charged formally at all. Included in that are many prisoners of conscience as described by Amnesty International. They include human rights lawyers Mohammed Al Mansouri and Mohammed Al Rakan who internationally respected men.
There are 26 more political prisoners who were arrested a year ago but we simply do have any information about why they are being held or what has happened to them. There could be many more given the nature of the security services in the UAE and how unaccountable they are for their actions. Many of those political prisoners who we know have been arrested have been subjected to months of incommunicado detention at unknown locations. The authorities are unresponsive to family members who try to find out where they are, what is happening to them, perhaps why they are being held.
A really good example of this is Jamal Al Hamadi who was arrested in April 2013. We have had no confirmation that he has even been arrested. The only indication that the family have had was that last month a group of prisoners in Abu Dhabi prison who had been transferred there recently from state security said that they had seen Jamal in the state security facility and that he was being held in very harsh conditions. This is regular for political prisoners to be subjected to such treatment.
When they are held incommunicado when they emerge they inevitably have been tortured. Human Rights Watch have described the use of torture in the UAE as being systematic and the strongest evidence we have of that is hundreds of letters that have been smuggled out of prison from defendants. Ninety four political dissidents were accused of plotting to seize power. There were also more handwritten letters exposed in the trial of 30 more activists which concluded in January of this year which involved 20 Egyptians. They all say that they were subjected to torture.
Torture in the UAE is not limited to political prisoners. European citizens have been tortured as well. Three Britons in the summer of 2012 were pardoned after an extensive media campaign for their release. A recent report that I did on Dubai Central Jail shows that 75 percent of prisoners alleged they were ill treated or tortured. So torture is endemic to the prison system of the UAE regardless of who you are.
The trials of political activists themselves: when defendants bring forward these claims of abuse the courts fail to investigate without exception. The legal process itself is flawed because defendants are denied access to their lawyers. The use of contracted judges in the courts, particularly for state security crimes is a problem because a contracted judge does not have security of tenure and they are often foreigners and if they pass a judgment that the authorities dislike they can just be expelled from the country.
The UN special rapporteur recently concluded after a visit to the country that there should be an investigation into torture and concluded that the judiciary is not independent. Rather typically the authorities have responded by criticising the credibility of this report rather than answering any of the claims.
The crackdown itself is not longer limited to people who are deemed to be activists. Travel bans and bank account blocking has been imposed on the families of political prisoners: children, wives, uncles, aunts, hundreds of people are barred from travelling. What was of most concern of late was the case of Aisha Al Zaby who was the wife of Mohammed Al Zaby a former judge. He is now living in exile in London. When she tried to leave the UAE via the Omani border in January with her 18 month old baby she was stopped and arrested by state security and held incommunicado for five days at an unknown location. She was not accused of a crime but interrogated about her husband’s activities. She has now been released but the whole family have been told they have been indefinitely on a travel ban.
Now a little bit about the legislation that has been passed since this crackdown. It has been used summarily across the GCC. Cyber crimes legislation was passed in November 2012 which criminalised all online dissent and banned the organising of protests. As a result of that twitter users are now regularly arrested. Most recently Mohammed al Zumer a 19-year old activist was arrested in December 2013. He was sentenced to three years in prison. His crime was to ask for an investigation into the torture of political activists. He has been tortured himself and there has been no investigation into that.
Very briefly some explanations about why there is opposition in the UAE now whereas before there was very little dissent. There is suggestion that the growing wealth gap between the northern and the southern emirates could be an explanation here as many of the activists are from Ras Al Khaimah in the north where there is poverty and poor distribution of wealth. There also seems to be a frustration among the Emirati community that there has been a dilution of their culture because of the nature of the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai and what is permissible there.
But overwhelmingly during the past two years there has been a growing desire for a political voice and for political participation. In an article an emirate student was quoted as saying “I am well off I do not need a revolution because I am hungry. I want my freedoms and my dignity.” There is a copy of a statement released by a group of emiratis on the third anniversary of the petition and in it says that the legitimacy of the government is measured by the participation of people in choosing it. This explains quite articulately the reasons for this growing opposition.
The statement refers to the UAE’s constitution which promises a move towards representative government in the style of a democratic parliamentary rule in an Islamic Arab society free from fear and anxiety. So these emiratis are simply asking for what was promised which I believe is the same for many across the GCC.
Finally just to mention the international community’s role in all of this which has been interesting. David Cameron and William Hague, to start with the UK, wrote in Gulf News opinion pieces supportive of Dubai’s bid to host the world fair in 2020. This was believed to be the exchange for the closing of a large multi-billion deal for a sale of typhoon jets .The deal has collapsed even though Dubai did win the bid for the fair. This is a rather
embarrassing diplomatic failure for the UK government.
There have been a number of instances where we condoned human rights abuses. It has been the same in Bahrain. The EU recently passed a resolution to allow the UAE to be part of the Shengen so they have visa free travel throughout the EU. The UAE foreign minister responded by saying that this was a recognition made by the European Union of the UAE’s achievements.
These things provide validation for a regime that effectively condones human rights abuses because the UAE restricts the travel of its own citizens based on what they say. You should perhaps be wary of allowing the UAE passport to be increased in its value while its rulers do not afford their people freedom of movement itself.
So what next? Arrests will continue. The authorities are confident in this crackdown because the international community fail to criticise or hold them to account. What should happen. There is a European Parliament resolution in 2012 which calls for a principled policy towards the UAE and this is what should be happening not visa free travel when they abuse human rights.
Hopefully we will see an increased scrutiny of the UAE’s and the UK’s relationship moving forward and I think it is great that here today I can talk about the UAE. As an outsider I would encourage Gulf opposition movements to build bridges and show solidarity with one another because states are acting collectively to put down opposition movements. So I would encourage them to work collectively to challenge this and hopefully we can see these countries being held to account for their human rights promises. The UAE was elected to the Human Rights Council in 2012. They signed the Convention Against Torture in 2012 and at the moment these countries are allowed to manipulate human rights commitments into a PR exercise and they should be held to account.
Lord Avebury: I am sure you are all struck by the parallels that exist between what
is happening in Bahrain and what is happening in the UAE – the clampdown on the freedom of expression, attacks on the social media, incommunicado detention and torture. All these things have happened in Bahrain and could be described in identical words to the ones you have just used. I think your concluding suggestion that there should be better interchange between the opposition’s of the GCC countries is a helpful one and should be taken up by the Bahraini opposition and I hope there will be frequent exchanges of information and also discussions on strategies that should be used in these two countries and the whole of the Gulf countries on how we counter the machinations of the hereditary rulers.
Raza Kazim, Islamic Human Rights Commission: Thank you Lord Avebury for inviting me to speak on this issue. I have been asked to talk about the Saudi impact on Bahrain and what has actually been going on. One of the things that I want to pick up on is what is actually going on in the current political climate. We have got a situation where a country has sent some forces into another country to provide some form of security. There has been violence.
I am talking about what has happened with Russia and Ukraine. When you look at the facts that are actually going on there was violence from the protesters in terms of the elected government and so forth and dissatisfaction and how that actually turned out and what Russia has done or is proposing to do etc etc
Look at the reaction of the Western governments in terms of invading the sovereignty and interfering with the sovereignty of another country. We are not here to talk about the Ukraine or Russia but the issue is to recognise how the Western governments are actually reacting and what they are actually doing in terms of what is going on.
We had with the situation of Bahrain a peaceful protest with the revolutionaries uprising happening and people coming out onto the streets and protesting peacefully about what has been going on. This is a long standing issue which has been going on for many decades in terms of the Bahrainis wanting to be able to influence what happens in government and to be able to have self rule etc.
Three years ago this whole thing started and has been going on very peacefully. And even though it has been going on peacefully we had Saudi Arabia invading Bahrain at the request of the Bahraini government to suppress these protests that had been going on. What has been the reaction of the Western governments to this? What has been the reaction of the American government? What has been the reaction of the British government to say there is a problem in terms of what is actually happening there? How can you allow this to happen and not actually make a fuss.
Look at the fuss that has been created in terms of the Ukraine. Why has not even a fraction of this been done when Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain in this way. I think it is important to recognise that there is deep seated hypocrisy that is at work among the Western governments in terms of how they react or do not react in certain situations because they feel it is okay to allow these injustices to occur because the rulers of either the invading country or the country that is being invaded are doing their bidding in the region and not to allow the voice of the people to rise in that way.
I think it is important to recognise not only what is happening within the context of Bahrain but also that the reaction of the Western governments in this particular case – how hypocritical it is. The green light has been provided to Saudi Arabia from the Western governments that is okay to do this and there is nothing that the Western governments are going to do in reaction to what has actually happened there.
The other thing is what is the agenda and how is the agenda going to be enforced with regard to Bahrain? We had the situation when the uprising started in 2011 one of the first people who were arrested – I think one of the first people who was arrested and put in jail was a Bahraini who was from a Sunni background. When people look at this one of the first few slogans that was out on the streets of Bahrain was ‘ neither Shia nor Sunni’ we are all Bahraini. That was the attitude and that was the ideals that people were actually talking about.
With the direction that events have developed what is Saudi Arabia actually trying to do. What is the agenda? It is like saying that Saudi Arabia is promoting the Salafi, Wahabi agenda and that is what it is about. We need to really look at that and question that. Within Saudi Arabia there are 30,000 political prisoners and the vast majority of them are Sunni, Salafai Wahabis from that actual background. So this idea that the Saudi government is promoting a particular version of Islam and therefore oppressing the people on the basis of that is really something that needs to be challenged. It is not about saying this Islam of that Islam or whatever. It is about looking at the issue of injustice and this issue of sectarianism that is being promoted by the Saudis to encourage this idea of the Shia Crescent and the language which is being used in that way and the fact that it is the Sunni rulers in Bahrain versus the Shia people in Bahrain – to continue that narrative, that discourse that says it is really about a sectarian issue that is very localised and is very particular – that is being used to hide the issues of injustice, the issues of oppression that is actually taking place.
We need to actually scrutinise this idea about what direction this is going to head in. Not only have the Saudis used this tool of sectarianism to continue this narrative. It is a tool that is being used elsewhere in the Muslim world. It is a tool that is being used and propagated. If you look at the BBC and if you look at the Western media this is the language that continues to be propagated in order to enhance this idea that it is a Shia-Sunni conflict when it is very far from the truth of what is actually going on.
The problem is further exacerbated because people who come from a Shia background have actually taken this narrative for this own particular agendas to promote this idea of Shia nationalism and saying we need to support the Bahrainis on the basis that we are Shias and they are Shias and therefore we should be supporting them. It is important to recognise that sometimes inadvertently what this group that is promoting the idea of Shia nationalism is actually playing into the hands of the tool of sectarianism that the Saudis are promoting with the agenda that they have and with the ideology or promoting sectarianism. It is not about Whabbism of salafism. The differences obviously exist between Whabis and Shias and Sunnis. That is well documented. It has been going on for some time. The real issue is that we should not allow these things to hide the fact that this sectarian agenda is being utilised to actually promote sectarianism, is being used to promote this injustice or to use this sectarianism as a fig leaf for the injustice that is being carried out by the Saudis with regard to Bahrain.
It is also important when there is a response to this particular concept of fighting the sectarianism and the injustice that is going on that people do not start jumping on the bandwagon. This has got to be done on the basis of the Shias rising up in terms of what is actually going on against Sunnis. This is not where the solution is going to be.
This tool of sectarianism is also something that fits in – it is being used because it has been see to be effective in the wider narrative. It is a tool that is being used by the British government and the American government for the Saudis to continue to do that. They themselves have been using that. If you look at the politics of this country or internationally this is something that has been going on for quite some time.
So I think when we look at the Saudi intervention we need to look at it in terms of who the media is responding to it. We need to think about it in terms of how the British, American and other Western governments react to that in terms of the military invasion of Bahrain and how they are reacting in terms of the Ukraine. We also need to look at this idea of sectarianism and the facts that actually exist in terms of what Saudi Arabia is doing and how it is trying to hide what it is doing behind the sectarianism and promoting this idea that they are the flag bearers of Whabbish or Salafism.
Lord Avebury: As you pointed out the Sunnis are in the vanguard of the uprising of 2011 and the promoters of sectarianism are the Al Khalifais backed by the Saudis as we see from the vast number of Shias who have been arrested for no other reason other than they belong to the Shia branch of Islam. The sectarianism is promoted by the Al Khalifas. It was brought into the equation by them when it did not exist in the opposition at the time of the Pearl Roundabout and the presence of the Saudi forces in Bahrain are helping the Al Khalifas in the promotion of that policy. So we should be clear and we will have to have another discussion at some length on the exact role that sectarianism has played in the autocracy in Bahrain and how they are using it as an instrument to their policy.
Now I have great pleasure in calling on our next speaker who is a personal graduate of the torture system having served in prison in Bahrain. That is Ali Abu Imam.
Ali Abu Imam. My name is Ali Abdul Imam. I have been arrested at the beginning of September 2010. It is before the Arab spring and all the revolutions around the Arab world. I have been subjected to torture and it was during Ramadan. They forced me to stand up facing the wall for five days. I was beaten. They were threatening me with my family and my wife. And they fired from my work within less than five days. This is against the local law in Bahrain. I have been isolated and kept in a cell for two months. I did not know the charge till they took me to the public prosecution which was after seven days.
In the National Security Agency which is the agency I was held by they tortured me. I felt something with the officers who were torturing me. They really hate us and they do their practise of torture because they hate us. It is not only their duty to extract the information or to get any evidence from us. They hate us. They came drunk in the middle night and they wanted to beat us just to feel comfortable. Before I went to the office of the public prosecution for interrogation one of the security officers pointed a gun at my head and said if you denied any charge or if said you have been tortured inside the security headquarters you will return to us and we will do the same thing to you.
When I entered the public prosecutor’s room with that investigator he did not allow me to sit, he was not questioning me, he was just asking the question and writing the answer himself. Also when he read the charge he did not ask me if I accepted those charges or if I denied them. He just read the charges and said yes to all of them. Then I returned to my isolated cell for the next two months.
I just want to highlight two things about what I understand from that situation. I had been in jail for six months. After they released us I was in hiding. I have been targeted again so I had to go into hiding for two years. My understanding of the situation is that the regime cannot sustain itself without two things: practising torture and protecting those who are torturing. If they stopped the torture they would not be able to get information or any evidence.
I do remember to follow-up with the system and to make a complaint about torture. They said if you are subjected to torture you can make a complaint. I remember with our first hearing before we even talked about the details of our case we made our official complaints. It has been documented in the court that we were subjected to torture and we were forced to sign confessions that we did not read.
All of the 23 except for one person said the same thing that we have been subjected to torture and that the confessions were pulled out against our will. We are waiting for the judge to repeat the investigation into our case because all of them are false. The system in Bahrain doesn’t give you the justice that you need. They did not look into these complaints that we made and they continued with the case.
Lord Avebury: Thank you very much. That is a very personal testimony. It could be replicated by the hundreds of other people who have had the same experiences. Yet as you see the special rapporteur on torture who was to have visited Bahrain to report on these matters has been denied entry. His visit is postponed indefinitely. I certainly hope that the special rapportuer will report on how torture is being used in Bahrain without having to pay a visit to ascertain this. There are a lot of testimonies such as the one we have just heard which will be available to him from the exiles. So there is no shortage of witnesses who would be prepared to make the same kind of statement as we have just heard and the special rapporteur should use that to make a report to the Human Rights Council and I am sure that the Bahraini representatives will be talking to the special rapportuer on torture this week and they will make that point as forcibly as they can.
Lord Avebury: That is a vivid portrayal of the impact of repression on children and young people which does not need to be ignored. We should look at the situation of the children and young people. What is it doing to the new generation in Bahrain witnessing not violence against adults but also personal violence against themselves. This is a really a shocking film. I am now going to call on Dr Saeed Shehabi to make some concluding remarks.
Saeed Shehabi: UK representative of the Bahrain Freedom Movement: Thank you Lord Avebury. We all of us have listened to a few testimonies. One of two from Bahrain, one from Saudi Arabia and one from the United Arab Emirates. Now if we put all these testimonies together we reach the conclusion that all the GCC countries need to be overhauled. Go through the political developments in the past two weeks and we will see that these countries are the countries that have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar for assisting the Arab revolutions. We do not know what the motives are. It is a fact that they stood by and supported the revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt and they are strong allies of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This means that there is a deep conflict within the GCC. Why have the Saudis stood with the coup and encouraged and urged and helped in plotting the coup in Egypt. The Qataris were defending the brotherhood and standing against the coup. Why does this matter at all to me. To me as a Bahraini who has been involved in opposition activities against the dictatorial regime it may look sometimes that we are not able to make headway.
But let me put the facts one by one: Bahrain has conducted the longest revolution in the Arab world. All the other revolutions have either been contained, co-opted, defeated, averted or corrupted but the Bahrain revolution has been there for three full years non stop, day in day out, the people have been on their streets, raising their banners, maintaining their peaceful approach.
As Lord Avebury said, all along they have been receiving the blows from the regime but they have also maintained their course and they have stood by their demands without depending on outside help. This is number one.
Number two the GCC regimes have not been able to come up with a viable policy towards reform. None of these GCC countries has undertaken any sort of political reform to appease the population.
Number three: The West has stood by just watching or abetting in the crackdown of the revolutionaries. One of the latest documents I saw is a letter by the foreign office here about how much they knew about the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. According to the letter from the FCO they said we cannot release all the confidential discussion that had taken place between the Saudi authorities and the UK officials: the embassy in Riyadh, the embassies in Bahrain and the Saudi officials. We cannot release this. They said that we have to weigh the pros and cons of releasing these documents and we decided not to release the contents of the official negotiations or debate between the two sides.
What they say is that on 13th March 2011 the Saudis have informed the British embassy in Riyadh that they were going to cross the border and they were going to go into Bahrain – so that is one day before they did it. The Saudi foreign minister spoke to his counterpart the British foreign minister and told him that we are going to do the same. This much is known and this has been revealed by the FCO but they were not ready to reveal other details.
Number four: the dynamics of the politics in the GCC countries are such that it is unlikely that the GCC is going to survive for long. The next summit is scheduled to be held in December in Doha. Seven or eight months from now we can already see the divisions between the two sides. We see Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia and on the other had we see Qatar and Oman and to a lesser extent Kuwait. Kuwait because of its parliamentary experiences cannot go into alliances that are not approved by its own parliament. And the Omanis have not been on good terms with the Saudis for years but they are always trying to find a middle ground or a middle way to go along in order not to jeopardise the GCC situation.
At this time we can see that it is most likely that Oman will side with Qatar because they do not want to be dominated by the Saudis. The Saudis have taken over all the movements. In Syria they are actively supporting the Syrian opposition and they have supported the army in Egypt. These actions will have ramifications in the not too distant future.
In Bahrain the people are demonstrating and they are hoping that this conflict of interest of priorities and of policies in the GCC will lead to a divergence of their political stance and at the same time providing a reasonable ground for political change. It is not only the GCC. The GCC is split. We have also have Iran on the other side of the Gulf and Iraq and all these powers are vying for power and they have a conflict of interest. Usually weak people depend on the conflicts that will provide, that will weaken their regimes and eventually lead to some sort of settlement.
I believe that the government of Bahrain is so weak that it is the only GCC country that has accepted to go into union with Saudi Arabia. All the other countries have rejected union with Saudi Arabia for the simple reason that they do not want to be dominated and annihilated by the Saudis.
So we commemorate the third anniversary of the Saudi invasion. I can say that the Saudis have not succeeded in their goals. The people are still there, the revolution is there and the Saudis are suffering from their own internal problems in their territory – in the eastern province and in other places. Reza Kazmi said there are 30,000 political prisoners whose families are demonstrating to ask for their release. So there are internal conflicts within the GCC and I am sure that in the end these conflicts will help pave the way for an eventual victory for the people of Bahrain.
Lord Avebury: Thank you very much Saeed. I think you vindicated the decision we made to look at the international dimension of the situation in Bahrain as we have today probably for the first time in all the press conferences that we held to look at the impact of the other GCC countries on what is happening in Bahrain and also to examine these wider tensions that exist in the GCC that may contribute to the downfall of the sheikhdoms.
I am going to call briefly on Jalal Farouz a former MP forced into exile by the government who deprived him and 31 others of their citizenship.
Jalal Farouz: I was told about an hour ago that this morning in Geneva the Human Rights Council has started this year’s session and three people have spoken in that session about the special rapporteur on torture. The first person who spoke was the special rapporteur on torture Mr Juan Mendes and he spoke about Bahrain. He asserted that all his appeals to go to Bahrain have been refused and then he talked about what is happening in the prisons in Bahrain which is not acceptable.
He started talking about all the allegations of what are called confessions under torture. These should not be accepted at all and it is very shameful that some countries are calling themselves defenders of human rights but they are torturing detainees.
The second person was the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and she also spoke about what the defenders of human rights are facing in Bahrain. He also said that some of the detainees have been tortured.
One of the people who spoke this morning was the head of the Polish delegation. She also spoke about the allegations in the so-called confessions of some of the late detainees in Bahrain who have allegedly been detained for bombing of three policemen. She said that all these allegations should be denied because they have been taken under torture and no court should accept them.
In conclusion I am saying that every time the regime tries to make a story that there are some bombings we are very sceptical. The bombings may have been carried out by the intelligence people and then blamed on the innocent protesters. They detain them and it is to the surprise of all the world that some people appear on television to say that we confess that we have killed and we have done the bombing. This is evidence that torture is still a big issue in the jails in Bahrain and it has to stop. And all the international community have to stand very harshly against what is going on in Bahrain.
Lord Avebury: I must say it is extraordinarily heartening to hear that the Human Rights Council has had these three testimonies – particularly that of the Special Rapporteur on Torture who is an excellent man and does a wonderful job on very slim resources. He got the support of the Special Rapportuer on Human Rights Defenders and the Polish delegation. This is tremendous news. We have to impress our government and the government of the USA to adopt a more robust attitude against egregious violations of human rights violations.
Saeed Shehabi: I have a question for my friend Rory. In the UAE there are more than 128 detainees yet we do not see any reflection of those detainees even in the Arab press. I understand that these people have colleagues in other Arab countries because they are mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood. Why is this total silence. They may not something about Bahrain because they are Shia and we are not going to talk about them. But what about those people in the UAE. What makes the UAE so invincible that no one dares to question it?
Rori Donaghy: I think that while many of the political prisoners in the UAE are members of a local Islamist group the authorities project them as being an external threat and not a domestic group. They see them as an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood plot and they accuse them of being transnational coup plotters. This is probably why. No evidence has been produced to back up this assertion.
Lord Avebury: It only remains me to thank the speakers most warmly for their contributions. This has been a significant meeting. I hope that we will be able to pursue the issues that have been raised – particularly the international dimensions of the situation in Bahrain and the implications of the various splits that exist within the GCC itself. These are matters that we will want to take up in future press conferences. But in the meanwhile thank you all very much for your attendance.