On Monday, 25 January 2016, Bahrain’s public prosecutor announced that a court had sentenced 57 men to additional 15-year jail terms for their alleged involvement in the Jau Prison riots last March. The prosecutor accused the men of having “unleashed acts of chaos, riots and rebellion inside (prison) buildings,” and officially charged them with a variety of offenses, including “damaging public property, attacking police, arson and resisting authorities.” According to prisoners since released from Jau, the riots were in response to the prison’s substantial overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. Mounting evidence suggests that Bahraini authorities responded to the riots by engaging in collective punishment, subjecting the prisoners to severe, en masse human rights abuses before, during, and after the riots. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the European Center for Rights and Democracy (ECDHR), and Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO) condemn the sentencing of the 57 persons as a miscarriage of justice, and call on the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable any person responsible for acts of collective punishment and human rights violations.
As documented by ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD in Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison, “physical torture, prevention of medical care, and massive overcrowding remain a systemic failure of Bahrain’s prison system.” In response to the riot in March 2015 specifically, prison officials and security personnel employed excessive force to suppress the unrest, beating inmates indiscriminately and firing tear gas into confined spaces. Though reports suggest that only a minority of prisoners took part in any unruly behavior, the authorities punished them all collectively – and long after the government had re-established control of the facility. Now, the government has sentenced 57 people to lengthy prison terms amidst allegations of abuse, torture, and due process violations, not only calling into question the veracity of the convictions but also whether any security officials will be held accountable for the abuse.
“What happened at Jau was a tragedy on all sides,” said Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of ADHRB. “While we never support violence in any case, we are very concerned that today’s convictions resulted from the collective use of torture and abuse and seems to be a means of intimidation to prevent any future protests in the prisons.”
The Bahraini government’s response to Jau has been a cause of significant concern in the international community, particularly at the United Nations. In June, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated it was “concerned about the harsh treatment of detainees in Jau Prison…” following the riot, and called on the Government to “conduct impartial, speedy, and effective investigations and to ensure that any victims of torture or ill-treatment have access to appropriate remedies.” In September, the Special Procedures of the United Nations communicated concerns regarding “Bahraini security forces using rubber bullets, tear gas, and shotgun pellets, which led to the injuries of at least 500 prisoners.”
“Although the UN called for speedy investigations into the Bahraini government’s assault on Jau’s prison population, thus far the government has yet to hold any security personnel accountable,” said Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdhah, Vice President of BCHR. “The government must conduct an investigation into what happened at Jau, and punish those responsible for human rights violations.”
Five years after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) called on the government to prevent torture and hold perpetrators accountable, the court’s decision to sentence 57 Jau inmates to additional, lengthy prison terms demonstrates the authorities’ continued unwillingness to reform. Mohammed al-Tajer, an attorney for the accused and the brother of Ali al-Tajer, who is currently arbitrarily detained in Bahrain,argued that the government ultimately disregarded the evidence of human rights violations at Jau: “We raised a complaint that our clients were beaten during the unrest in Jau prison, but the court sentenced them at the end of the day, ignoring these complaints.”
“It’s been four years now since the BICI called for the Bahraini government to hold torturers accountable,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at BIRD. “Instead of jailing the torturers, however, the government continues to only punish the tortured.”