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Bahrain sentenced defendants to death after torture and 'sham' trials, says report

Report alleges that Bahraini courts convicted and sentenced defendants to death following unfair trials and confessions coerced through torture
Bahraini men mourn during the funeral of Ali Abdulghani, whose family says died of injuries suffered during a police chase, in the village of Shahrakkan, on 5 April 2016 (AFP)

Courts in Bahrain conducted “sham” trials and eight men were given death sentences based on confessions obtained through torture and coercion, rights groups say in a new report.

A 61-page joint report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), titled, “‘The Court is Satisfied with the Confession’: Bahrain Death Sentences Follow Torture, Sham Trials”, alleged that Bahraini courts convicted and sentenced defendants to death following “manifestly unfair trials, based solely or primarily on confessions allegedly coerced through torture and ill-treatment”.

Bahrain: Use of death penalty and torture on the rise, says report
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The eight men examined for the report are among 26 men who are currently on death row, with their appeals having been exhausted. According to the report, courts “cavalierly” dismissed the allegations of torture and poor treatment during the interrogation instead of conducting an investigation. 

“Bahraini officials routinely proclaim that the government respects fundamental human rights, but in case after case, courts relied on coerced confessions despite defendants’ credible claims of torture and ill-treatment,” Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at HRW said

“The many human rights violations that underlie these death sentences reflect not a justice system but a pattern of injustice.”

The report also alleges that the Bahraini courts violated due process and fair trial rights during the prosecutions of the men. For example, none of the men were allowed counsel during their interrogations. In one case, the court allegedly did not allow the accused to present defence witnesses. 

“It is particularly appalling to sentence people to death amid torture allegations and after manifestly unfair trials,” Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, an HRW consultant and primary author of the report said. “King Hamad should commute all death sentences immediately and the government should reinstate the de-facto moratorium on executions.”

Death penalty in Bahrain 

A report published in 2021 revealed that Bahrain drastically increased its use of torture and the death penalty since the Arab Spring protests in 2011. 

In their report, Reprieve and Bird said that in the last decade, death sentences in the country have risen by over 600 percent.

Since 2017, when Bahrain ended a seven-year moratorium on the death penalty, six people have been executed. The 26 men now on death row can be executed once King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa ratifies their sentences, HRW says. 

The eight men that were referred to in the report include Maher Abbas al-Khabbaz; Sayed Ahmed al-Abar; Zuhair Ebrahim Jasim Abdullah; Husain Ebrahim Ali Husain Marzooq; Hussein Moosa; Mohammed Ramadhan; Husain Ali Mehdi; and Salman Isa Ali Salman.

Security forces had arrested two activists -  Moosa, a hotel employee, and Ramadhan, a security guard at Bahrain's international airport, in early 2014 after a policeman was killed in a bombing in al-Deir, a village northeast of Manama. 

They were charged with killing an officer by bombing a police convoy in 2014. Ramadhan refused to sign a confession but Moosa says he signed a statement in which he made a false confession and incriminated Ramadhan after being suspended by his limbs and beaten for several days.

They were sentenced to death in December 2014 and Bahrain’s highest court upheld the capital punishment a year later.

In 2020, more than a dozen human rights groups signed an open letter to Bahrain's king, in a last-ditch attempt to commute the death sentences.

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