Families describe ‘living nightmare’ of having their loved ones on death row in a country where Britain has spent millions on technical assistance to improve justice and security sectors
Death sentences in Bahrain have risen by over 600 per cent since the start of the Arab Spring and the use of torture is “drastically escalating”, a new report has found, as family members of those on death row speak out about their “living nightmare”.
The six-fold rise in death sentences comes despite the fact that the UK has poured millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the tiny Gulf country in a bid to improve its human rights record.
The joint report released by UK charity Reprieve and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) found that at least 51 people have been sentenced to death since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, compared with seven death sentences in the decade before.
In 2019 the rate of executions in Bahrain was almost two thirds of the per capita rate of executions in Iran, one of the world’s top executioners.
The report also shows that Bahrain’s use of torture has risen dramatically since 2011, and is now “endemic” even after the UK’s million-pound technical assistance to Bahrain’s justice and security sectors.
The report was released on Tuesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the Bahraini Court of Cassation’s decision to uphold death sentences against Mohammed Ramadhan, an airport policeman and Hussain Moosa, a hotel driver, who participated in the 2011 protests and in 2014 were arrested on charges of killing a police officer in a bomb attack.
Reprieve said Bahraini court has failed to establish any physical evidence linking them to the crime, a point confirmed in the analysis of court documents by Pete Weatherby QC from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales.
The two men have said they were tortured to confess to murder, including being blindfolded, stripped, and beaten with iron rods. Hussain said he was sexually assailed, threatened with rape and deprived of food and water.
Although the allegations of torture were investigated they were then effectively thrown out by two Bahraini security bodies – Bahrain’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and Ombudsman – that have received training from the UK. This allowed the case against them to proceed.
Last month a United Nations human rights watchdog called on Bahrain to release and compensate two activists saying they are being arbitrarily detained.
They now face imminent execution by firing squad. Their family and international observers may not even be notified in advance.
Ramadhan’s wife Zainab told The Independent that the family all “live in constant fear” that the execution will go ahead without them knowing.
“Mohammed has been increasingly paranoid that he will be executed without any given warning. It breaks my heart to speak with him and hear the fear in his voice,” she said.
“Last week he saw a police officer that escorted his former inmates to their death. He feared for his own life and is constantly afraid when any new developments take place in the prison.”
She said she was in a “living nightmare” and her children keep asking when their father is coming home.
“We don’t know when we will wake up and hear my husband is going to be executed. He has lost all his appeals and his sentence is final. So we pray every single day that an execution will not take place. If I don’t hear from Mohammed for a few days, I worry. It’s terrifying and we always fear the worst.”
She urged the British government to halt training and funding of the institutions in Bahrain that she said perpetrated abuse against people like her husband.
“What is stopping the UK government from echoing the UN’s call for my husband’s immediate release? Why won’t they condemn the abuse and torture he has endured and continues to suffer? To me, the UK’s silence represents their complicity.”
The report found that 100 per cent of the men executed on terrorism charges in Bahrain since 2011 alleged torture. It added that 26 men currently facing imminent execution are on death row as a result of unsafe capital convictions and death sentences, including those who are believed to have been tortured into confessing.
“Sentencing torture survivors to death for their opposition to the government is a heinous act of revenge by Bahrain’s regime,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of BIRD, on the launch of the report.
“Having trained institutions which facilitated death sentences against political prisoners like Mohammed and Hussain, the British government has a moral obligation to speak out against this injustice before it is too late.”
Reprieve echoed the calls for British action, and said the UK must join the UN in demanding both Moosa and Ramadhan’s immediate release, as well as condemning death sentences and convictions based on torture.
“Although the UK government says it is opposed to the use of torture in all circumstances, it continues to provide support to the Bahraini regime and to whitewash its human rights abuses,” Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve, told The Independent.
“British taxes supported the Special Investigations Unit behind the sham report into Mohammed and Husain’s torture allegations that was relied on when Bahrain’s highest court upheld their death sentences. This body has been found unfit for purpose by the United Nations Committee against Torture. “
Former minister Sir Peter Bottomley MP last month urged the foreign secretary Dominic Raab to raise Moosa and Ramadhan’s cases at the highest level. In a letter, shared with The Independent, he urged them to call upon Bahrain to grant the men clemency.
The Bahraini authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of torture or abuse by members of their security services or in their jails. The Independent has approached the government of Bahrain for comment on the latest report by Reprieve and BIRD.