C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000518
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/05/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ASEC BA POL HUMRIT
SUBJECT: ALLEGED BEATING PROMPTS HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REQUEST
FOR INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
REF: MANAMA 0476
Classified By: Ambassador William T. Monroe for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
Â¶1. (C) Two Shia Bahrainis were reportedly beaten by security
personnel following their detention at a May 21 rally. The
families of both men tried to locate them but were not
informed of their whereabouts until May 29, when they were
invited to visit the men at the Bahrain Defense Force
hospital. In a statement to the press, a Ministry of
Interior official said that one of the injured men was hurt
by a fall to the ground and stones thrown by protesters.
Human Rights Watch issued an open letter May 31 calling on
King Hamad to form an independent committee to investigate
the incident. Human rights and political activists expressed
their belief that security personnel have a new policy of
using increased force against demonstrators. Separating fact
from fiction is difficult in a case like this, but the lack
of transparency from the government and the eight-day
incommunicado detention raise legitimate questions. End
Two Protesters Reportedly Beaten
Â¶2. (U) According to press reports and a statement by Human
Rights Watch, two Shia Bahrainis, Ali Saeed Al Khabaz (age
22) and Hameed Yousif Ahmed (age 46), were beaten by Bahraini
security forces following their detention at an illegal
demonstration on May 21 in the village of Sanabis. A photo
said to be of Al Khabaz shows swelling and bruising on his
face and head. Ahmed is reportedly suffering from a broken
jaw and other injuries.
Â¶3. (U) The two were picked up by riot police the night of
May 21 in Sanabis following a rally protesting police
intervention in a demonstration the night before (reftel).
According to family members, the two were beaten by police at
the site of the protest and in nearby locations after their
detention. The families of both men tried unsuccessfully to
locate them at hospitals and police stations, and on May 29
Interior Ministry officials informed the families that they
were being held at the Bahrain Defense Force hospital. Al
Khabaz's family visited both men the same day. On May 30,
the Ministry prohibited any further visits and late that
night moved them to the Manama police station. According to
a May 30 report in Al Wasat newspaper, an Interior Ministry
official said that a fall to the ground caused Al Khabaz's
injuries. He is said to have resisted arrest and suffered
injuries from stones thrown by protesters. The spokesman
said the police had not treated Al Khabaz inhumanely.
Â¶4. (U) Human Rights Watch Executive Director for the Middle
East and North Africa division Sarah Leah Whitson issued an
open letter to King Hamad May 31 recounting the events and
urging the formation of an independent counsel or commission
to investigate "allegations of severe beating, possibly
amounting to torture" by police. Deputy Middle East Director
Joe Stork was quoted in a separate AP article saying,
"Bahrain's response will show whether King Hamad's promises
of human rights reforms and rule of law have any meaning."
All aspects of the story, including the Human Rights Watch
letter, feature prominently on the website of the Bahrain
Freedom Movement, a London-based Shia opposition group
fiercely opposed to the Al Khalifa regime. A Bahraini
newspaper reported June 7 that Shia opposition political
society Al Wifaq secretary general Shaikh Ali Salman met with
Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa the
previous day to discuss the situation. "Informed sources"
said the meeting went well and is expected to have a positive
impact on the cases.
Extensive Injuries, Per Victim's Brother
Â¶5. (C) Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) deputy secretary
general Abdullah Al Dirazi told PolOff that his organization
had not been able to visit Al Khabaz in the hospital, but Al
Dirazi had spoken with Al Khabaz's brother, who had seen him.
The brother said that Al Khabaz's injuries were extensive,
that he had been beaten and kicked all over his body. BHRS
has sent an official letter to the public prosecutor
requesting to visit Al Khabaz and Ahmed in jail, but they
MANAMA 00000518 002 OF 002
have not yet received a response. Al Dirazi thinks the MOI
has a new policy of using increased force against protesters.
Police are quick to act, and do not try to defuse the
situation through other means. He believes riot police are
being more provocative, resulting in an escalating situation
of violence and counter-violence.
Â¶6. (C) BHRS official Abdul Nabi Al Ekry said that he had
visited Ahmed at the BDF hospital. He did not see Al Khabaz.
Al Ekry said that riot police had employed "heavy handed"
tactics for some time, and this incident comes as a result of
that policy. There had been expectations that relations
between the police and Shia community would improve following
the creation of unarmed "community police" personnel drawn
from the local population and initiatives to promote dialogue
between Interior officials and local leaders, but he said
that nothing had really changed. In his view, the MOI
considers any group gathering without proper licenses as
unauthorized and should be "treated harshly with excessive
force." No attempts are made to mediate a peaceful
resolution to confrontations, he complained.
Police Crack Down on Protesters
Â¶7. (C) In the view of secular opposition political society
Al Waad president Ibrahim Sharif, the Interior Ministry has a
new policy of cracking down on demonstrations. The police do
not want to detain people, he said, they want to inflict
injuries and present a show of force. Arrests and detentions
only lead to more protests, something the government wants to
avoid. Citing the case of a May 19 rally in which he was
injured by a rubber bullet and a tear gas canister, he said
it is true that many of the demonstrations are not legal, but
the law is unjust. If a demonstration is inside a village
and is not obstructing traffic or business interests, why
should the police intervene, he asked.
Â¶8. (C) Former Shia MP Mohammed Al Shaikh echoed Sharif's
comments, saying that police want to bring pressure to bear
on the Shia community, and so they are being aggressive. He
commented that the Interior Ministry wants to compensate for
the leniency of the King (in recently ordering the case
against three Shia activists be dropped) and spread fear and
send a strong message to demonstrators. He mentioned that Al
Khabaz and Ahmed are associated with the hardline Shia Haq
Movement, which seeks to use confrontations with the police
to draw public attention and support. He said that Al Khabaz
is the nephew of Haq Movement deputy secretary general Abdul
Jalil Singace, and he may have been targeted because of his
family connection. (Note: No one else has mentioned this
reported relationship.) Al Wifaq advisory council member
Nizar Al Qari said the police are engaging in "collective
punishment." They allow themselves to be attacked, Qari
claimed, and then react with excessive force.
Â¶9. (U) In perhaps another example of the perceived MOI
zero-tolerance policy, riot police broke up an illegal
gathering in the fishing village of Malkiya June 2.
Residents were protesting illegal fish traps in the sea
belonging to an "influential citizen." (Note: A senior
member of the Al Khalifa family.) According to observers,
the situation went suddenly out of control, with police using
tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators who threw
stones and Molotov cocktails. Police reportedly randomly
smashed parked vehicles with their batons in the vicinity of
the protest. Residents intend to demonstrate again this
Â¶10. (C) It is very difficult to sort fact from fiction in a
case like this. Everyone who discusses the incident has a
stake in convincing the listener of his own point of view.
But the lack of transparency from the government and the
eight-day period of incommunicado detention raise legitimate
questions. The Embassy will continue to follow up with
government and civil society contacts.
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