Detained children beaten, threatened with rape by Bahrain police: Rights groups

Riot police near the British embassy in Manama prior to an anti-government protest in support of Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 16 February 2021. (File photo by Reuters)

Bahrain’s police forces have beaten children they arrested on the anniversary of the 2011 pro-democracy uprising, threatening them with rape and electric shocks, according to two human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said in a joint statement on Wednesday that Bahraini prosecutors and judges enabled the abuses, urging the Manama regime to drop abusive charges against children.

Governments that support Bahrain and its police and security forces, including the United States and the United Kingdom, should ensure their aid is not funding abuses and publicly demand accountability, the statement said.

“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.”

Bahraini police arrested and detained 13 children in early to mid-February, some of whom could face sentences of up to 20 years in prison, the statement said.

February 14 marked the 10th anniversary of the popular uprising in Bahrain, with thousands of people staging nationwide demonstrations across the country, demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama, however, has so far brutally clamped down on any sign of dissent.

According to the report, five children, who were arrested on February 14 and 15, said that police from the station beat, insulted, and threatened them with electric shocks from a car battery.

An officer hit a 13-year-old on the head and threatened to rape him, gave him electric shocks, and beat his genitals, his father said. The officer repeated the rape threat even after his father was allowed to join him.

“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.”

The report comes two months after Human Rights Watch said the human rights record of the Bahraini regime has not improved, because authorities failed to prosecute officials and police officers who allegedly committed serious human rights violations, including torture.

“Bahraini authorities use the many repressive tools available to them to silence and punish anyone who criticizes the government,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain has escalated its use of the death penalty, targeted people for their social media activity, and denied medical treatment to prominent opposition figures in detention.”

Last month, the February 14 Youth Coalition, a movement named after the date of the beginning of the Bahraini uprising, called for unity among all political groups and people of the Arab country to topple the country’s ruling family.

The movement also called for bringing about “fundamental changes” in the country’s political system, saying such reforms are the most important demand of the Bahraini people.

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