Stories from Bahrain’s Crackdown: Deaths in Custody
Widespread public protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain began in February 2011. By mid-March 2011, the Bahrain government had begun a violent crackdown on the protestors and those it imagined had been its leaders. Journalists, human rights activists and medics were arrested in the following weeks. Many still remain in jail today, convicted on the basis of confessions forced under torture.
On March 15th and 16th, 2011, Bahrain security forces violently dispersed peaceful protests at the Pearl Roundabout. Many were arrested; several died in the weeks following as a result of torture in custody. Although Bahrain ratified The Convention against Torture in 1998—which prohibits torture and ill-treatment under all circumstances—the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report stated that five prisoners died as a result of torture.
On April 4, 2011 the government announced that Hassan Jassim Mohammed Maki, a 39-year-old laborer, had died in police custody and attributed his death to complications from sickle cell anemia. Police had arrested Maki in a predawn raid at his home in Karzakan on March 28. Photos that the family took during the pre-burial cleansing of Maki’s body showed bruises on the back and front of his upper body as well as his ankles, and a pair of small, round wounds the size of small coins on the back of his head. No cause of death was given and the family declined an autopsy.
A second victim, Zakaria Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, was arrested in his home by masked uniformed police at 2 a.m. on April 2. Al-Ashiri was arrested for administering a blog that carried critical commentary about government policies. The next day, his relatives could find no information about him. On April 9, the Interior Ministry announced that al-Ashiri had died in detention, also attributing his death to complications from sickle cell anemia. According to al-Ashiri’s brother, he was a carrier of sickle cell but he had never suffered complications as a result of the disease. During his pre-burial body cleansing al-Ashiri’s family reported a wound on his right shoulder, a gash on his nose and blood that had issued from his ears and lips. His death certificate stated that his cause of death was “shock.”
On April 3rd, Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer turned himself in to police in Hamad Town for his part in the March uprising after police had visited his relatives at least three times and threatened to detain them if he did not turn himself in. On April 9, after hearing nothing from him for six days, Saqer’s family were told by the Interior Ministry that he had died. The statement issued by the Interior Ministry claimed that Saqer had “created chaos” in a detention center, “which led security forces to bring the situation under control,” resulting in his death. His body showed signs of severe physical abuse with a large bruise on the left side of his face, another near his left temple, and a two-inch cut to the left of his eye. Lash marks crisscrossed his back, some reaching around to the front and blue bruises covered much of his body from the waist down. The top of his feet were blackened, and lacerations marked his ankles and wrists. The death certificate issued by the BDF Hospital on April 9 listed the cause of death as “hypovolemic shock,” a condition usually brought on by extreme loss of blood.
Abdulkarim “Karim” Fakhrawi, a 49-year-old Bahraini journalist, businessman, co-founder of the newspaper Alwasat, and owner of the largest group of bookstores in Bahrain, was taken into custody on April 5. He died on 11 April 2011 from injuries sustained after having been allegedly tortured while in NSA custody. Despite government claims that Fakhrawi’s death had occurred during a brawl with two NSA officers and was due to kidney failure, witnesses reported having heard him screaming while receiving beatings.
The fifth victim died four days after being released from custody where he sustained serious injuries.
Two low-ranking policemen were charged with “beating” Saqer and al- Ashiri, a lesser crime than torture, while three others were charged with failing to report the crime. All five of those accused of torture were subsequently released. No senior government official has ever been brought to account for the deaths in custody, and the culture of impunity in Bahrain continues.