Police in Bahrain beat children in detention and threatened them with rape and electric shocks, human rights groups, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The rights groups demand that Bahrain should release all children as there are alternatives to detention, and drop abusive charges against them.
The children, ages 11 to 17, were arrested in protest-related cases in the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Arab uprising in Bahrain last February, to snuff out dissent and dissuade protesters from assembling to mark the anniversary.
Prosecutors and judges enabled the police abuses as they refused to allow parents or lawyers of the children to be present during interrogations, said the rights groups.
Judges also unnecessarily ordered their detention. One of the children spent his 12th birthday in jail.
Currently, four children still remain in detention and are being tried as adults, including a 16-year-old with a serious medical condition whose next court hearing is set for March 11.
Governments that support Bahrain and its police and security forces, including the United States and United Kingdom, should ensure their aid is not funding abuses and publicly demand accountability, they added.
“A police officer who threatens a 13-year-old with rape or electric shocks from a car battery is an abominable stain on Bahrain’s reputation,” said Sayed Ahmed Al Wadaei, advocacy director at BIRD.
“Bahraini police officers treated children as enemies who must be terrorized into confessing, while prosecutors and judges shut parents and lawyers out of proceedings.”
According to information from family members and Ebtisam al-Saegh, a Bahraini rights advocate, police arrested and detained 13 children in early to mid-February. The two rights groups spoke to six of the children and the families of another five.
Police arrested children for allegedly burning bicycle tires or a chair or blocking a road on the day of their arrest. Police also accused children of planting a fake bomb, vandalism, and throwing Molotov cocktails in November 2020, the children and their families said. If convicted, some of the children could face sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
The timing of the arrests indicates a heavy-handed government approach to protests. Bahraini authorities have used pre-emptive or arbitrary arrests to deter people from protesting around other major events, like Formula One races.
On February 14, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa approved Law No. 4/2021 on Child Restorative Justice and Protection from Abuse, which will come into effect in six months. The law raises the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 15, defines a child as anyone under 18, and provides for special child courts and separate detention facilities for children. Bahraini criminal laws currently treat children ages 16 and older as adults.
Most of the children’s cases involved abuses or due process violations at the Hamad Town police station. Five children, arrested on February 14 and 15, said that police from the station beat, insulted, and threatened them with electric shocks from a car battery.
Police did not allow parents or lawyers to be present during the children’s arrest and initial questioning, during which abuses were also reported. Bahraini law provides that a lawyer may not be barred from seeing a client at any stage of a criminal proceeding.
After international attention to their cases, six of the children detained in February were released, even though a judge had renewed their detention orders for seven days.
The abuses children described around the February 14 anniversary recall the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) on abuses in February and March 2011, which reported that children were taken to police stations and subjected to “beating, slapping, kicking, lashing … and verbal abuse.”
In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture of children in detention in Bahrain.
“These abuses by Bahrain’s criminal justice system are the latest entry in a long record of harming children to send a repressive message,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.
“The UK, US, and other governments should ensure that their security support to Bahrain is not being used to torture and humiliate kids.” (Source: HRW)