Human rights groups for years have expressed their concern over the Bahraini government’s procedures in conducting its investigations in trials alongside the use of the death penalty. It is clear that these concerns have had little to no reaction by the Bahraini government as this week Ali al-Arab (aged 25) and Ahmad al-Malali (aged 24) have been put to death by the firing squads. Security forces first arrested the pair separately on the 9 February 2017, and in January 2018 both were given a mass trial alongside 60 people. The charges provided were based on terrorism offences that involved the killing of a security officer. Part of what has created such a response from human rights organizations has been the use of torture against the pair throughout the investigative process.
Hours before the penalty was carried out, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard appealed to government to stop the executions, stating that “Capital punishment may only be carried out for the most serious crimes and after a legal process which has included all possible safeguards aimed at ensuring a fair trial.”
The acting Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, Lama Faikh, prior to the deaths occurring stated that “If the executions are indeed imminent, then the king has committed a grave injustice by ratifying the death sentences of the two men despite the allegations of torture and other serious due process concerns”
Bahrain originally held a seven-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty; however, by January 2017 this had ended. Now, under the Bahraini law, after the Court of Cassation confirms a death sentence, the decision is sent to the King who has the power to either ratify the sentence, commute it, or grant a pardon. The King had commuted the sentences of al-Arab and al-Malali after the pair had been subjected to torture to gain their confessions.
According to Human Rights Watch, al-Arab’s family has said that interrogators at the Criminal Investigations Directorate beat him severely, used electric shocks on him, and pulled out his toenails, after which they forced him to sign a confession while blindfolded. Similarly, al-Arab did not gain access to a lawyer throughout his interrogation and only saw a lawyer for the first time during the first court hearing.
Such practices are not the markings of a fair and unbiased judiciary. By reinstating the death penalty, it contradicts our human rights to “inherent right to life”. Furthermore, it makes for a concrete decision, there is no room for mistakes the person on trial must be found to be guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt as the consequences are life. This coupled with the use of torture to gain confessions is a despicable act that demonstrates a lack of a free judiciary. Many are calling for Bahrain’s allies in Europe to leverage the country over its human rights abuses.
Ironically, this week, experts have said that Bahrain is looking to “rebrand’’ itself as an open and tolerant state. Since 2011, Bahrain has endured civil unrest with Shiite-led protests demanding political reform. Since then, all opposition groups have been banned and disbanded, hundreds of protestors have been jailed and nearly thousands of Bahraini’s have had their citizenship revoked. Yet, Bahrain is now trying to prove itself to be an open and tolerant state by offering to host a global security conference following a series of incidents involving tankers in the Gulf. Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College in London stated that “the attempt to host international forums, such as the Palestine workshop, while reaching out to Israel, is an attempt to project tolerance and openness”.
Rather than focusing on the outward appearance, Bahrain needs to focus internally for the actions of the government has proven that the possibility of an open and free kingdom right now is impossible. It is clear that the country requires serious change as to how it treats its citizens if it is to ever be seen as a country of tolerance and peace. For the current actions are not the tools utilized by those who champion human rights.
This coupled with the news that the U.S. has reinstated the death penalty are a cause for concern as to where human rights are heading in this global age. The use of torture to gain confessions and a firing squad to finalize the ending of this pair’s life are appalling and should not be tolerated. These actions are condemnable and as such should be declared so, but not only by human rights organizations. Governments globally should recognize that these actions are inherently wrong and speak up and advocate for more peaceful solutions. For without recognition and condemnation only more stories such as that of Ali al-Arab and Ahmad al-Malali will continue to grow.