Lawyers Targeted, Prisoners Tortured; This Is Bahrain

Warning: this article contains a graphic account of sexual abuse in police custody.

Bahrain's latest PR effort, the "This Is Bahrain" showcase, is a parallel universe version of the repressive kingdom. At the This Is Bahrain exhibition, there is free soft drinks, food, and electronics, promise the organizers, to help celebrate the leadership of the country's monarch; bouncy castles face painting and a raffle -- "a tribute to his Majesty."

The truth about the king's rule during the last five years is that thousands and thousands of men and women have been jailed as his government has cracked down on peaceful protests. The kingdom's judicial system is a mess, its prisons are full to breaking point, its lawyers and their families harassed, arrested and tortured.

Mohammed al Tajer is a veteran human rights lawyer, respected across the region for decades of commitment to the rule of law. He was arrested and tortured in 2011, and in 2012 a film was posted on the internet of him in bed with his wife - a government attempt, he says, to blackmail him. He believes that for years his phone has been tapped and his computers hacked by the government.

Then early last month his younger brother Ali, an engineering graduate of the University of Bahrain, was arrested at the family home, denied access to a lawyer and, he says, tortured in custody. Detailed, credible, consistent reports of torture are extremely common in Bahrain, where impunity for torturers is a national tradition. Ali was finally brought before public prosecutor Hamad Shaheen on November 30, 25 days after being seized. A couple of hours before his brother's hearing began Mohammed was called to be present at the questioning. "It lasted for two and half hours," Mohammed told me. "Ali was frightened and pale. He told the prosecutor what had happened to him in custody - that he was beaten and kept naked most of the time, deprived of sleep, and forced to stand for 20 days. That a rope was tied to his genitals and pulled in an apparent attempt to pull them off, that his testicles were squeezed, that he was threatened with electric shocks and forced to sign a false confession." Ali has been charged with joining an illegal terrorist organization to overthrow the government by force, and training individuals on the use of weapons for terrorist purposes. These are the sort of standard charges brought by the government against those it perceives as sympathetic to the political opposition, or close to human rights groups. Evidence doesn't play much a part in these proceedings - I've seen trial hearings in Bahrain myself, and they defy international legal standards and basic common sense. It looks like Ali has been targeted because of Mohammed's refusal to stop his human rights work. He continues to defend human rights activists, and has bravely and publicly criticized the Bahraini regime's abuses in London, Geneva and elsewhere. Earlier this year he spoke at an event with U.S. Congressman James McGovern (D-MA) and myself in the U.S. Congress, reminding Washington that its military ally continues to violently target human rights defenders. A couple of months ago Mohammed says a note was left on his wife's car for him, threatening "Those who are watched are in danger." Last week Bahrain refused to support a United Nations resolution aimed at protecting human rights defenders. Despite the face painting and the bouncy castles, lawyers continue to be targeted, dissidents arrested and prisoners tortured. This Is Bahrain.