Children arrested while at swimming pools and playing board games
Children as young as 13 are being detained, ill-treated and tortured in Bahrain on a routine basis, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today (16 December).
Scores of children arrested on suspicion of participating in anti-government protests have been blindfolded, beaten and tortured in detention over the past two years, Amnesty said, with some threatened with rape in order to extract forced confessions.
According to reports received by Amnesty, there are at least 110 teenagers aged between 16 and 18 held at Bahrain’s Dry Dock Prison - an adult facility in al Muharraq Island - pending investigation or trial. Most children have been arrested on suspicion of participating in “illegal gatherings”, rioting, burning tyres or throwing Molotov cocktails at police. Many have been seized during raids while they were playing at home, meeting in coffee shops or even while at a local swimming pool. Several were denied access to their families for extended periods and interrogated without their lawyers.
Children under the age of 15 who have been sentenced are held at a Juvenile Centre in Manama under the control of Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior. During the day they are attended by social workers but at night, when most abuses tend to take place, Bahraini police take over. At the age of 15 those held in the Juvenile Centre are transferred to adult prisons such as Jaw Prison in southeast Bahrain to serve the remainder of their sentences.
Ja’far - arrested at a swimming pool on 5 September
Fifteen-year-old Ja’far ‘Abdel-Jalil Radhi al-Miqdad was among a group of ten children arrested at a swimming pool in September, and later interrogated and allegedly tortured. Ja’far says he was blindfolded, repeatedly kicked and punched on different parts of his body, and forced to stand up for about 20 hours. He says he was also threatened with rape if he did not “confess” to participating in an attack with Molotov cocktails on a police patrol earlier this year. He was detained for nearly two months at the adult Dry Dock Prison before being released without charge on 1 December.
‘Ali - arrested while playing a board game in a coffee shop on 26 August
Fourteen-year-old ‘Ali Hatem Ali Salman was arrested in August - reportedly while playing a board game with his friends in a coffee shop - blindfolded and taken to a police station where, he says, he was beaten and given electric shocks to make him “confess” to rioting. He was held for two weeks at Bahrain’s Juvenile Centre before being released on bail. He is still facing charges of “illegal gathering” and “rioting”.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said:
“Nearly three years after Bahrain’s security forces used excessive force to crush anti-government protests, they now appear to be targeting children in an intensified crackdown.
“Bahrain’s government purports to respect human rights yet it is brazenly flouting international obligations on a routine basis by resorting to extreme measures such as imposing harsh prison sentences on children.
“By rounding up suspected under-age offenders and locking them up, Bahrain’s authorities are displaying an appalling disregard for its international human rights obligations.”
Bahrain is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which defines a child as anyone below the age of 18. The convention also explicitly prohibits the torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Amnesty is calling on Bahrain to consider alternative penalties for children who have committed internationally recognisable criminal offences - such as probation and community service, and is calling for all children under the age of 18 who have not committed any recognisable offence to be released immediately, and for any allegations of torture and ill-treatment to be thoroughly investigated. The organisation is also urging Bahrain to review legislation including the Juvenile law and the Penal code to ensure that they are fully compatible with international standards.
Since the popular uprising began in Bahrain on 14 February 2011, gross human rights violations have been committed by the Bahraini security forces - which have used excessive force against protesters, killing dozens. At least 2,000 people are now languishing in jail. Many trials have fallen short of fair trial standards and Amnesty has adopted 20 of those jailed as prisoners of conscience. Widespread impunity for abuses carried out by the security forces continues to be a serious issue.
In August, Bahrain’s juvenile law was amended so that the parents of anyone under the age of 15 who takes part in a demonstration, public gathering or sit-in would receive a written warning from the Ministry of Interior. If a second offence is recorded within six months the child’s father could face jail, a fine or both.