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Bahrain: Court ignores complaints of torture and continues to try Mr Khalil al-Helwaji

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Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern at the behaviour of the Bahraini authorities, which continue to ignore accusations of torture levelled by activists and prisoners of conscience, and which continue to allow judgements to be handed down without taking these complaints into account.

The Third High Court on Monday 25 May ruled that a hearing for Mr Khalil al-Helwaji be postponed until 30 June, despite the fact that his lawyer had submitted a report that confirmed the deterioration of Helwaji’s health and the absence of the necessary healthcare for those suffering from certain diseases.

Mr Khalil al-Helwaji (57) is a member of AMAL, an organisation that authorities ordered closed on 9 July 2012 as part of a series of attacks against Civil Society Organizations. al-Helwaji was arbitrarily arrested at dawn on Wednesday 3 September 2014, when civil forces supported by police raided his home. He was detained without an arrest warrant. The forces searched his home and confiscated 2 laptops as well as mobile telephones. al-Helwaji was later transported to the criminal investigations headquarters. According to his family’s testimony, al-Helwaji was subjected to torture and threats over the course of four days, in an effort to force a false confession that he planned a bombing attack and possessed weapons acquired from a man suspected in the same investigation, 18-year-old Hussein Jaafar Bo Hamad.

al-Helwaji has said that he was detained in a room where he was ill-treated: he was exposed to extremely low temperatures for hours at a time, and prevented from going to the toilet. During the interrogation, he was threatened with special types of torture that leave no mark, and which the general prosecutor and the police doctor would not be able to document.

al-Helwaji was also forced to sign confessions while he was blindfolded. Al-Helwaji added that the investigation focused on the activities of AMAL and its founders – this raised doubts surrounding the decision to target al-Helwaji, who explained in the course of the questioning that his membership had been cancelled.

Following that, al-Helwaji was transferred to Dry Dock Prison, where his detention was extended three times before it was decided that his case should be referred to court, without the complaints of torture he had made being raised. This was despite the fact that the complaints had been investigated by the special investigations unit, which found that there was criminal doubt in the case. al-Helwaji’s family said he had complained during a number of visits of recurring pains in his left arm which extended down to his hand, and of an injury which had caused him to lose sight in one of his eyes. After multiple requests, al-Helwaji was taken to a military hospital without the knowledge of his family. The doctor there found that Helwaji had a blood clot in one of his retinal arteries, in addition to an inflammation of his optic nerve, which impacts on his nervous system and particularly his movement, due to a lack of Vitamin D.

The doctor prescribed a number of medications and nutritional supplements, which al-Helwaji never received. He was not given the necessary medical care or follow-up treatment, at a time when he needed continuing check-ups and regular blood tests.

BCHR considers the treatment al-Helwaji was subjected to, to be a clear violation of the treaties and covenants that criminalise torture and stress the prisoner’s right to legal representation. Moreover, the treatment he was subjected to in prison is completely detached from international rules governing the treatment of prisoners, which stipulate that the necessary attention and healthcare must both be given to detainees.

Based on the above, BCHR calls on the UK, and all of Bahrain’s international allies, to put pressure on the Kingdom to do the following:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release al-Helwaji and drop the charges against him
  • Investigate the complaints of torture and offer al-Helwaji suitable compensation that corresponds to the harm he suffered
  • Bring to justice those who commit violations, including those who carry out and supervise abuses
  • Allow the special UN rapporteur on torture to enter Bahrain to investigate what goes on in prisons and detention centres
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