Cablegate: Human Rights Watch Report On Torture in Bahrain


DE RUEHMK #0071/01 0431022
P 121022Z FEB 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000071



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/12/2030

REF: A. 08 MANAMA 471
B. 08 MANAMA 236
C. 09MANAMA 220 D. 09 MANAMA 241 E. 09 MANAMA 587 Classified By: CDA Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(SBU) Summary: A new Human Rights Watch report asserts that torture has been "revived" as a component of interrogations in Bahrain. The report is based on mid-2009 interviews with 20 Shia former detainees. Bahrain's Foreign Minister announced the GOB will look into the allegations and, if appropriate, take action against perpetrators. An independent Bahraini human rights NGO questioned an element of the report, while Sunni columnists and MPs denounced it as biased. End summary.

2.(U) Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report entitled "Torture Redux: the Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain," at a February 8 press conference in Manama. The report and accompanying press release -- both available at -- assert that "since the end of 2007, officials have repeatedly resorted to torture" during questioning of detainees. The torture allegations are largely based on interviews HRW conducted with 20 former detainees in June 2009. Ten of these were arrested during and after riots in Jidhafs village in December 2007 (ref A); three were arrested in connection with disturbances near Karzakkan village in early 2008, during which a Pakistani policeman was killed (ref B); and seven were arrested as part of the National Day/Hujaira case (ref C). All 20 detainees were released following King Hamad's pardon in April 2009 (refs C and D).

3.(SBU) The former detainees were interviewed by Joe Stork, deputy head of HRW's MENA division, and Joshua Colangelo-Bryan of the New York office of Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

4. (SBU) During Stork's June 2009 interviews, the former detainees alleged that they had been suspended in painful positions, beaten on the soles of their feet, subjected to electrical shocks, and punched and slapped. During the press conference on February 8, Colangelo-Bryan claimed that this mistreatment was carried out in such a way as to minimize signs of physical abuse on the detainees' bodies. Colangelo-Bryan also told media that government medical records indicated that some of those who provided testimony to HRW bore indications of torture. (Note: The report itself stresses that the doctors' annotations indicate that some of the former detainees had bruises or joint irregularities that "could have" been caused by suspending bodies off the ground. End note.)

5.(U) The HRW report notes that the MOI and NSA have French and British advisors, and states that France and the U.K. "may risk being implicated in prohibited practices." BACK TO THE 90s? = = = = = = = =

6.(C) At the February 8 press conference, Stork asserted that the Government had reverted to practices it employed in the 1990s. He stressed that the overall rights situation had improved since that time, but insisted that the HRW report's allegations showed that torture is again being utilized during questioning of suspects. (Note: Bahrain experienced significant upheaval during the 1990s, during which time a number of Shia activists were exiled, imprisoned, and, in some cases, activists and NGOs allege, tortured. King Hamad's reforms, beginning in 1999, paved the way for integration of mainstream Shia parties, above all Wifaq, into legal politics, including participation in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and an end to the most serious civil disturbances. However, Shia radicals, such as the Haq and Wafa' movements, continue to denounce Shia who take part in elections. The radicals also inspire much of the low-intensity street violence that regularly afflicts some Shia villages, and has occasionally led to attacks on south Asians. End note.) GOB MEASURED, SUNNIS SEETHE, SHIA ENCOURAGED = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

7.(U) Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa led the official response, announcing February 9 that the government will look into the HRW report's allegations, and stated that if torture was found to have taken place, the perpetrators would be referred to the appropriate authorities. Sunni columnists and members of parliament were less measured. In a typical reaction, MP Hassan Al Dossari, a Sunni who describes himself as a secular liberal, lashed out publicly at HRW because, he said, "it doesn't want stability and security (for Bahrain)."

8.(C) Shia opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman of the Wifaq party called on the GOB to heed HRW's recommendations. Wifaq MP Jasim Husain told poloff on February 11 that he is encouraged by the Foreign Minister's statement and hoped that the report would help promote transparency. He expressed confidence in the Interior Minister, saying, "We (Wifaq) know that Sheikh Rashid is committed to cleaning up MOI." Husain said Shia radicals' role in the sourcing of the report opened HRW to "legitimate criticism," but added that he thought the report would likely have an overall positive effect.

9.(SBU) Stork told poloff that during a meeting with the Shaikh Rashid and his senior MOI advisors, the Minister did not specifically deny the allegations but assured Stork that such torture was illegal in Bahrain and not tolerated by the GOB. Sheikh Rashid and his advisors however took issue with the HRW report's naming of certain MOI and Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA) officers, stating that three of the five mentioned in the report worked in sections which did not engage in questioning of detainees. INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS NGO WEIGHS IN = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

10. (U) On February 9, Abdulla Al Derazi, head of the independent Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) -- which offered advice to HRW and at whose office the February 8 HRW press conference took place -- told reporters that BHRS had carried out its own investigation, and based on that, he believed that some of the officers implicated in the HRW report had nothing to do with the alleged torture. OTHER CRITICS CLAIM SOURCING LED TO BIAS = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

11.(C) Critics complained in the local press that Stork and Colangelo-Bryan relied on the assistance of a narrow group of Bahraini activists who are leaders of, or closely affiliated with Shia radical groups that have a record of inaccurate claims. Several activists from these groups are listed in the HRW report's acknowledgments, and include senior Haq leader Abduljalil Al Singace and Haq ally Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who is also on HRW's MENA advisory panel. Stork was open with poloff about his 15-year friendship with Rajab, and Colangelo-Bryan stressed his five years of collaboration with Rajab in his opening statement at the February 8 press conference. The report's allegations include testimony from Al Singace's brother, Muhammad, as well as Yassin Mushaima, cousin of Haq secretary-general Hassan Mushaima.

12.(SBU) Critics also contend that the tone and content of the report indicate sympathy for Shia radicals' points of view. For example, the report's account of the death of the police officer in the April 2008 Karzakan riots weakly refutes the notion that the rioters caused his death: "A plainclothes Pakistani officer with the NSA, Majod Asghar Ali, died, although apparently not as a result of being trapped in the burning vehicle, as authorities claimed." HRW's assertion that Majod Asghar Ali was an officer of the Bahrain National Security Agency (BNSA) also belies an over-reliance on Haq's politically tinged account of that event. Rajab, Al Singace, and other Haqis have claimed that the victim was employed by the BNSA. However, employment records produced during the trial made it clear that the dead man was an MOI officer. COMMENT = = = =

13.(C) The Bahraini government's commitment to look into the allegations is welcome. Post will urge the GOB to conduct an inquiry that is timely and credible. HENZEL

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