Bill Law: Justice Unrealized

Bill Law - 2014-06-02 - 8:40 م

The release of a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has again raised serious questions about the judicial system in Bahrain.

"Criminalizing Dissent, Entrenching Impunity" unlike other recent evaluations of the situation in Bahrain by Amnesty International and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), was written without its authors being allowed entry to Bahrain.

However as lead author Joshua Colangelo-Bryan notes much of the report was adduced from court documents and verdicts.

That in many ways is its greatest strength. As Mr Colangelo-Bryan said at a London press conference on 29 May " the findings rest largely on the words of Bahrain's judges."

And those findings represent a cogent and compelling argument, that despite government claims, the judicial system in Bahrain remains neither independent or balanced.

The document cites several cases both historic and ongoing that make for sobering reading.

Take the case of Ali Saqer.

Mr Saqer was beaten to death in detention in April 2011. As detailed in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report his death was attributable to torture and mistreatment while in custody.

Two police officers, Abdul al-Rashid Rasul Bakhsh and Muhammed Ihsan Muzaffar were subsequently charged with assault without intent to kill. They were convicted and given ten year sentences but the sentences were reduced to two years on appeal.

The court documents show that one of the police officers had beaten Mr Saqer with a rubber hose "until his strength was spent" at which point his colleague took over. This was evidence provided by the officers themselves.

A forensic report presented in court found that Mr Saqer had "many blunt force contusions" that covered most of his body and that those injuries resulted in death.

As HRW notes:

"For Muzaffar to have beaten Saqer with a weapon after Baksh had exhausted himself suggests an intent to do more than commit a simple assault. Given that the injuries reflect a comprehensive and brutal beating the court's unexplained conclusion that the defendants acted without intent to kill Saqer appears unjustified."

The same two officers were acquitted of beating another detainee to death, the blogger Zakaria Rashid Hassan al-Asherri. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.

When the two officers' sentences were reduced on appeal the court granted clemency arguing in part that they were "preserving the life" of a man they had beaten to death, a conclusion the HRW report argues is "devoid of logic."

A second case highlights the treatment of the journalist Nazeeha Saeed. She had witnessed the shooting to death of an unarmed protester by police in February 2011.

Ms Saeed was arrested in May of that year and alleges that she was tortured into signing, while blindfolded, a confession that said she was working for Iranian television and filing false media stories.

The journalist is a France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo correspondent.

After she was released, she filed a complaint and charges were laid against one officer, although her complaint identified several others.

That officer was acquitted in October 2012 despite the fact as HRW notes "there is no dispute that Saeed suffered serious physical injuries during questioning."

HRW concludes " given the court's reasoning in reaching its verdict, including its mischaracterization of medical reports and testimony, the court does not appear to have acted in an impartial manner. "

The HRW report also examines the ongoing cases against two leading members of the opposition Al Wifaq party, Ali Salman and Khalil Marzook and found in both cases little or no evidence to substantiate the charges against them.

"Criminalizing Dissent, Entrenching Impunity" should make for uncomfortable reading in the offices of Whitehall and at Amnesty International.

This past April the British foreign office gave Bahrain better than passing grades for its efforts to implement the reforms recommended by BICI:

"The government of Bahrain's work to implement its reform programme, particularly in the judicial and security sectors, continue to suggest that the overall trajectory on human rights will be positive, even if a number of the mechanisms and legal frameworks being put in place will take time to have an impact on the ground."

Amnesty International in its latest assessment spoke of "encouraging government openness and signs of limited progress towards greater respect for the rule of law."

But their public statement also spoke of "the lack of reform of the judiciary."

However the emphasis that both the FCO and Amnesty place on real progress being made is belied when set against the HRW report.

In my own assessment of the state of Bahraini justice, writing for the BBC ( I concluded:

"With tensions continuing between the opposition and the government, the Bahrain judiciary continues to be suspected of being neither independent or balanced.

Sir Nigel Rodley was a member of Cherif Bassiouni's (BICI) team investigating human rights abuses in Bahrain.

A former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, he told the BBC: 'I agree with Cherif that the system as a whole finds dissent more dangerous than official criminality, and I see no sign that that they have moved away from that position.'

And as long as that position remains entrenched, and as long as the judicial system remains under a cloud, it is hard to see any early end to the anger and distrust that is standing in the way of reconciliation."

That was written more than a year ago and I see little indication that anything has changed.

Indeed with draconian new laws in place and the courts continuing to sentence peaceful protesters to extraordinarily severe terms whilst perpetrators of state violence go unpunished, the situation in Bahrain's courts has if anything only become worse.

The government of Bahrain did not respond to a request to comment on
"Criminalizing Dissent, Entrenching Impunity".


التعليقات المنشورة لا تعبر بالضرورة عن رأي الموقع

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