U.N. Fears of Torture for American in Bahrain
By Carolyn Greco
When American Tagi Al-Maidan was arrested in Bahrain in 2012, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was among the first to investigate the circumstances of his detention. He’s still in jail, sentenced to 10 years after an unfair trial.
The U.N. group of experts detailed what happened:
“On October 7, 2012, at approximately 2 a.m., seven masked men, dressed in civilian clothes, and one man, dressed as a security officer, entered Mr. Al-Maidan’s home and arrested him without presenting an arrest warrant. The men did not identify themselves or inform his family where they were taking him. The men took Mr. Al-Maidan to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) in Al-Qodhaibiya, Manama, [Bahrain] where he was detained for 22 hours…They blindfolded him and forced him to stand on one leg for long periods of time…CID officers hit him on his upper and lower back, shoulders and chest, causing him extensive pain. They hit him on the face and head with severe blows while he was blindfolded. CID officers verbally insulted Mr. Al-Maidan… and threatened to rape both him and his mother…He did not have access to a lawyer… During his detention at CID, he was forced to make a confession on video that he had assaulted a police officer by throwing a stone at him. According to the source, Mr. Al-Maidan maintains that that confession is false and that it was extracted by acts of torture inflicted on him.”
It’s a familiar scene to many who have been jailed in Bahrain for alleged offences relating to protests against the government since 2011. Indeed, Al-Maidan’s story bears a striking resemblance to other documented reports of security forces arbitrarily arresting individuals in towns where anti-government protests regularly take place, failing to produce arrest or search warrants, and securing evidence through torture.
But Al-Maidan is a U.S. citizen.
Al-Maidan was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1988 to a Bahraini mother and a Saudi father who was in graduate school at Yale University. When he was four years old, Al-Maidan relocated to Saudi Arabia with his parents. He eventually moved to Bahrain, where he resided at the time of his arrest in October 2012. One year later, a Bahraini court sentenced Al-Maidan on charges of unlawful assembly, intent to kill police, destruction of police vehicles, and possession of Molotov cocktails.
Al-Maidan’s mother, Amina, told Human Rights First that she alerted U.S. officials when her son was taken from her home and detained. The State Department says staff from the U.S. Embassy in Manama have been in regular contact with the family, attended six court hearings in his case, and advocated on his behalf for proper nutrition, medication, and specialist care in prison. Twenty-six year old Al-Maidan suffers from a spinal condition and stomach ulcers that require daily medication.
Last November, the State Department publicly expressed concern for “Mr. Al-Maidan’s safety and welfare, his treatment in prison – including his medical and nutritional needs – and the Bahraini court system’s judicial proceedings.” U.S. officials further stressed that the Department continues to “emphasize the importance of Bahrain’s commitment to fair trial guarantees required by international law” to the highest levels of government.
The State Department’s concerns are heightened by the United Nations’ conclusion that “the violations of Mr. Al-Maidan’s right to a just and equitable trial are sufficiently serious to render his detention arbitrary.” The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s July 2014 report goes so far as to request that the Bahrain government “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Tagi al-Maidan, by immediately releasing him and granting him adequate compensation for the harm he has suffered during of [sic] his arbitrary detention.”
Yet Al-Maidan remains in jail. A Bahraini court upheld the verdict on two separate appeals and the third and final appeal is expected later this year.
The Bahrain government has reportedly denied any abuse in Al-Maidan’s case, stating it has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards torture. Likewise, the Bahrain government has repeatedly and publicly stated that it intends to end abuses and improve its human rights record and that it has taken important steps towards reform. But its continued crackdown on dissent nearly four years after its infamously violent suppression of citizens who took to the streets demanding democratic rights in February 2011 tells another story. Bahrain’s journalists, medics, activists, youths, teachers, lawyers, and opposition leaders continue to be imprisoned, many of whom reported being subjected to torture and forced into false confessions.
Al-Maidan’s case presents a vital opportunity for the United States to speak out for one of its own. For the United States, Bahrain is a military ally in a volatile region in desperate need of the reform and stability that will only come with a return to the rule of law. U.S. officials saw for themselves what happened at Al-Maidan’s trial and should publicly state whether, in the State Department’s view, the court proceedings in his case met international standards. If they did not, the United States should call for Al-Maidan’s immediate and unconditional release.