Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from Lawyer Mohamed Altajer President of BRAVO, board member, Bahrain Human Rights Observatory


1. This individual submission is to offer direct testimony of the experience of lawyers working within Bahrain’s judicial system amid claims of judicial reforms during these unprecedented times.

2. It is to revoke statements made by senior government officials that there have been reforms and progress in the judicial system in which high profile British advisors were employed to assist with.

3. There is no independent or impartial judicial system in Bahrain, and cosmetic reforms suggested have not materialised.


4. I, Mr Mohammed Al-tajer, a lawyer acting on behalf of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, would like to give direct evidence of my experiences within the country’s judicial system in this submission to the FAC. My office is currently dealing with over 120 political cases, that include approximately 300 defendants related to the uprising ranging between very serious charges—including terrorism—to cases relating to free speech. I am also the President of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation, a member of Bahrain Human Rights Monitor and the Bar Association. We have been working tirelessly for the past 20 months, mostly voluntarily at a great personal risk, to represent detainees and to help them where we can.

5. In April 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron stated; “Bahrain is not Syria, there is a process of reform under way and this government backs that reform and wants to help promote that reform.”

6. On June 12 2012, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Alistair Burt, stated; “We stand ready to assist Bahrain as it tackles the challenges ahead, including help with reform of the judicial system, promoting human rights training in the police and other government services, and reducing sectarian tension through reconciliation.”

7. Based on these comments, in which the British government has placed complete faith in the falsified assumption of reform in Bahrain, several questions are of paramount importance:

(a)What has the Bahraini government pledged to do?

(b)Has the Bahraini government complied with its pledges of reform?

(c)How has the FCO assessed the implementation of reforms from inside and outside Bahrain?

(d)Do the statements made by the UK FCO regarding reform in Bahrain provide a realistic assessment that is consistent with the situation in Bahrain?

8. As Cameron hosted the King, Crown Prince and Foreign Minister of Bahrain, flattering the Kingdoms alleged systematic restructurings, hundreds of people are being wrongfully detained, convicted and arbitrarily imprisoned as a direct consequence of unfair trials with many still languishing in Bahrain’s prisons. In this submission, I will highlight the most serious cases that need to be brought to the attention of the inquiry.

9. The following cases indicate Bahrain’s flagrant disregard for both International Customary Law and the UN Conventions ratified by the State alongside the likely direct involvement of UK officials in the breaches of international human rights law. The constant pledges of reform alongside the continuous direct assistance and public relations tributes by the British government only serve to prolong Bahrain’s judicial corruption and injustice. Lacking considerable evidence of reform implementation and in the absence of effective remedial procedures, various UK ministers have taken a silent approach to the abuses in the country, only speaking out in a manner advantageous to the authorities.

10. Assessed Judicial and Security reform pledges, accepted through the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry and the UN Human Rights Council 21st Universal Periodic Review, with an interpretation of implementation:


Reform pledge

UN Human Rights Council UPR recommendation

BICI reform

POMED ranking1

Review and repeal all sentences issued at the National Safety Court and refer cases to Civilian Courts.

115.114, 115.116, 115.117, 115.118, 115.122,


Partially Implemented

Commute death sentences



Not implemented

Review convictions, commute sentences and drop charges for persons engaged in non-violent free speech and peaceful expression

115.98,115.91, 115.100,115.101,115.159


Not Implemented

Establish a faster way to conclude cases of human rights violations against peaceful protests eg Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja


Not Implemented

Introduce legislation to prevent civilians being tried in military courts in future


Not Implemented

Train judiciary and prosecutors to facilitate eradication of torture


Not implemented

Ensure all detainees receive a fair trial and humane treatment

115.115, 115.123

Not implemented

Ensure every person arrested is given an arrest warrant and that detentions are monitored by an independent body



Not implemented

11. I would like to note, that given the findings of several independent reports that judicial reforms have not been implemented, the following worrying practices remain unchanged:

The process of transferring cases and convictions to Civilian courts from a Military Tribunal—the National Safety Court (NSC)—has not resulted in new, fair or transparent trials. Instead, the transfer of authority has led to convictions being reviewed based on existing trial records using unreliable evidence established in the military courts, by the same judges that sat in the military courts, mostly based on confessions extracted under severe torture. This is confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai who noted, “Evidence obtained under torture was reportedly not excluded from [the trial of opposition leaders]”.

The vast majority of the guilty verdicts issued by the NSC—some 135 out of 165 cases as reported by Bahrain News Agency—linger in a lengthy appeals process whilst those individuals concerned remain in detention. For instance Mahdi Abu Deeb, the President of the Bahrain Teachers Association, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment by the NSC and tortured in detention. Although appealing his charges, Abu Deeb remained in prison for more than 20 months, his conviction for calling for an “illegal strike” was upheld on appeal and he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Continued use of evidence obtained through torture. I have seen many of my clients complain of torture during interrogation, in which I was not present, particularly in the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the National Security Agency.

Many people continue to be convicted on charges relating to free speech and assembly (convicted under Articles 165, 168, 169, 179, 180 of the penal code) such as prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab.

Not enough time is given for the defence counsel to prepare cases

Inability to gain access to defendants prior to or after hearings; for many of my clients on very serious cases, I have not been given permission to access them in over six months.

The majority of defendants are not allowed to speak in court about allegations of torture.

Judges recently called for closed trial sessions in the political trials of 21 opposition leaders who then had their convictions upheld on appeal.

Lawyers are not allowed to make oral pleas in court.

Judges regularly refuse to summon defence witnesses thus denying defendants the most basic form of representation.

Requests for access to independent forensic doctors is routinely denied.

The vast majority of those arrested are not given arrest warrants.

Lawyers are themselves routinely verbally harassed or threatened with legal action.

Corrupt judges responsible for severe sentences against political sentences have been promoted.

Despite the training that the judges may have received, there remains the fact that the system that appoints them is partial and biased.

The General Attorney (public prosecutor) has failed to prosecute a single high-ranking officer accused of torture or those continuously working to incite racial and religious hatred through hate speech.

Harassment of Lawyers in Bahrain

12. As part of a systematic campaign to undermine the judicial process, lawyers in Bahrain are themselves target of state repression. I was arrested and detained myself on 15 April for four months and eventually released on 7 August 2011. I was held incommunicado and taken to military prison where I was subjected to torture in the form of kicking and beating, prolonged forced standing, solitary confinement for almost two months, verbal religious insults, and sleep deprivation. I was taken to the military court on 12 June to face charges related to free speech and I had three sessions there. Officers frequently conveyed the message that the reason for my arrest was because I “dared to defend “criminals””, referring to protestors and activist. They wanted to impart a fearsome and intimidating lesson for carrying out my obligation as a lawyer. I was taken to the military court in June 2011. After I was eventually released, I still faced a relentless barrage of attacks in the state media. Police later planted monitoring spyware in my office, and I continued receiving threats and attempted blackmail over a film secretly recorded in my bedroom with my wife. I was threatened for at least three years with the release of this tape until it was eventually published online by the intelligence services. My trial was transferred to a civilian court where I am being charged for participating in an “illegal gathering”, which in itself defies the government’s claim that they have dropped charges of free speech.

13. On 7th November, Bahrain lawyer Taimour Karimi had his citizenship revoked after spending 6 months in prison in 2011. Taimour was the first target in a series of human rights lawyer arrested at the start of the declaration of national safety. The lawyer was sentenced to an additional four months in prison giving rise to fears of safety within the legal industry.

14. The formidable arrest and sentencing of Taimour Karimi was followed by a series of arbitrary arrests of lawyers [****]. The primary objective for this exploit was to intimidate and pressure those lawyers who were willing to take on cases against the Bahraini government.

15. At trial, the judiciary handles lawyers as adversaries, building on simple administrative or structural mistakes provokingly. The judges—who are also members of the ruling family—often prevent lawyers from giving oral evidence and cut them off during defence arguments. Lawyers have to tread extremely cautiously during trial or face an imminent eviction from the courtroom.

16. At the courthouse, lawyers are treated as offenders at the hands of military officials who conduct intimate bodily searches on both genders often during circumstances of simple switches between courtrooms without leaving the courthouse. Searches are often intimidating and confrontational, including many occasions where lawyers are demanded to remove their shoes and belts with no reasonable suspicion and to no ends but a mere laugh between officials. Carrying mobile phones is also not allowed.

17. The court also continues to prevent lawyer-client interactions, which is imperative for the defence to build its case. The defendants also face arbitrary measures such as being placed within glass cages during trial. Cases and appeals are almost always delayed for months to serve the political setting at the time with human rights defenders and opposition members detained and effectively imprisoned without trial (using the prolonged appeals process) in order to exclude their voices from society.

The Role of the British Police—the Mysterious Stash of Explosives

18. On 2 July 2012, the BBC2 announced that forensic detectives from the Metropolitan police were sent to Bahrain to investigate an alleged find of advanced bomb-making materials. Frank Gardner of the BBC framed the story to be one that would finally link the opposition with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah or Iran relying on official quotes and pro-government press statements.

19. There are good reasons to be sceptical of Bahrain Ministry of Interior announcements and claims of terrorist activity in the Kingdom, as they have, on many occasions, failed to prove similar fictitious claims in the past. The US and UK will no doubt be keen to have an independent assessment—however, our concern is that the UK should not participate in any security operations where due process is not practiced and where suspects will not be given a fair trial. There are major legal, political and moral consequences for the Met police to be cooperating in operations that are plagued with allegations of human rights abuse.

20. The three defendants who were subsequently charged in relation to this alleged crime, have given testimonies of torture prior to interrogation and were not brought in front of the public prosecutor within 48 hours as is required under Bahraini law. In addition, there are claims that they are being held in solitary confinement in a military prison.

21. The importance of this case is categorical, involving the direct immersion of British officers in the investigation that involved severe torture. Credible claims of torture at the National Security Agency are on-going, particularly pertaining to cases of “national security” in which I represent several defendants. The BICI did not investigate this agency and it was the one area that was off-bound to investigators. Any involvement with this agency that comes under no independent monitoring, despite claims that its arrest powers have been removed is highly problematic.

22. Placing him on the country’s wanted list and encircling his image on the national state media networks, authorities targeted Jaffer Eid a 32-year-old father of two accused of possessing “5 tons” of explosives. Arrests orders were given for his capture. Jaffer went into hiding for almost two months fearing imminent arrest but was subsequently captured by police on 4 July 2012 alongside [***] (also accused of crimes related to bombing). Jaffer was shot using rubber bullets, dropped from the second floor of the building he was in, beaten on his legs, kidney and head so severely [***]. Jaffer also suffered several fractures in his leg and a denial of medical treatment [***]. During this time John Yates has been the head of police in the country for approximately 9 months.

23. Jaffer was transferred to military prison where he remained in solitary confinement pending trial where he was threatened and tortured. False confessions were extracted and later used as evidence in court. The victims were also moved to specialised investigation centres where we believe, British intelligence officers were involved. Charged with “creating a terrorist unit that aims to rebel against the constitution”, his lawyer was not permitted during interrogations, evidence extracted under torture was used against him, and he also reported that policeman beat him at the court.

The Shocking Case against the Medics

24. On 17 March 2011, Bahrain security forces began the military takeover of the main public hospital in Bahrain, the Salmaniya Medical Centre besieging and arresting many medical personnel. This included Dr. Ali Al Ekri arrested at gunpoint while he was performing surgery in the operations theatre, causing him both physical and psychological injury, and Dr. Mahmood Asghar. Subsequent to this was a series of arbitrary arrests of doctors and medical staff—the brothers Dr. Ghassan and Bassim Dhaif, Dr. Nada Dhaif, Abdulkhaliq Al Arabi, Dr. Nader Dawani, Dr. Zahra Al Samak and Dr. Fatima Haji. Amongst these arrests were 64 doctors, 62 of whom were taken to unknown locations, 51 were referred to the public prosecutor for trial. On the 6th of June 2011, 48 doctors were brought to a “National Safety Court” set up during the three-month period of martial law and on the 29th of September 2011 the court issued the following sentences:

13 doctors to serve 15 years in prison;

two to serve 10 years in prison; and

five to serve five years in prison.

25. The BICI reported “the fact that the National Safety Court acted in this manner is a subject of great concern to the Commission” especially when the defendants stated that they were tortured while in detention and that their confessions were obtained under torture. The court however subsequently “rejected the defendants’ motion and ruled that it could consider the confessions as part of the totality of the evidence in the case”.

26. This forced authorities to refer the case to a Civilian Court, which in reality cannot be differentiated from military tribunals when viewing its reasoning and considerations. The view was reaffirmed following the courts judgment on the 14th of June 2012 where it convicted nine doctors with charges relating to the occupation of the Salmaniya Medical Centre and the possession of weapons.

27. On the 1st of October 2012 the doctors faced judgement at the Civil Court of Cassation where the judge (of the ruling family) rejected the doctors appeal, confirmed the verdicts against them and imprisoned 6 of them:

Dr Ali Al-Ekri, Paediatric orthopaedic surgeon (five years)

Dr Ghassan Dhaif, Maxillofacial Surgeon (one year)

Dr Saeed Al-Samahiji, Ophthalmologist (one year)

Dheya Ibrahim (two-month sentence)

Ibrahim Al Demistani (three-year sentence)

Ibrahim Abdullah Ibrahim (three years)

Those convicted are now languishing in prison for terms ranging between a year and five-years, and through a feeling of injustice at the convictions received through authoritative revenge; they have (since 14 October 2012) gone on hunger strike. The remaining 28 members of medical staff continue to face never-ending trials in civilian courts on charges of misdemeanour with no end in sight.

The Qatar Case

28. This case is particularly worrying as the defendants were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in a civilian court in a manner reminiscent of all the previous “terror” cases (four in total) that sought to incriminate political dissidents on serious unfounded charges and on scant evidence other than confessions obtained under torture.

29. The case involved four individuals—[***] -travelling to Qatar from Bahrain to obtain medical treatment for [***] who suffered injuries caused by bird shot pellets fired by police to the head, the former two do not know each other at all. During entry at the Qatari customs, an officer ordered an inspection into their belongings, specifically their laptops, later finding specific images, videos and reports concerning the human rights violations in Bahrain. The individuals were separated into solitary confined rooms, faced lengthy interrogations and suffered psychological torture. After a month, Qatari officials ordered that they be flown back to Bahrain and handed over to the Bahraini authorities where the torture was worse, they faced beatings, arbitrary arrest for unreliable charges related to terrorism.

30. MOI statements included many contradictions claiming that the group was travelling to Syria and Iran though they were travelling on their personal IDs and not passports; that Iranian currency were found with the four accused though defendants claim they were not. The court went along with the MOI assigning the defendants to a terrorist organization despite the fact that the investigating officer, Fawaz Al-Emadi, had declared at trial that they had no means to blow up any facility or to assassinate a person coupled with a general lack of evidence. The only evidence provided were forced confessions where lawyers were not present and information from the laptop of one of the defendants with photos of injured protestors.

31. The court issued a 15 years imprisonment sentence purely based on an MOI interpretation of their thoughts. The lawyers of defendants have requested that the court stop this trial at the Higher Court until judgment is passed on the claims of torture during the investigations. The court, headed by a member of the royal family, has rejected the request.


32. Instead of praising non-existent reforms, the British government should encourage genuine structural judicial reform that would guarantee fair and transparent trials for detainees in practice. It should voice immediate public concerns over the overall lack of reform implementation.

33. The FAC should question the role of British advisors such as Sir David Bethlehem and Sir Jeremy Jowell on their activities in Bahrain, as well as the Metropolitan Police’s role in the investigation where alleged abuse of detainees took place.

34. Despite the British embassy sending consular observers to many of the big political trials, the FCO’s reports do not reflect any of their findings on the nature of the trials and the blatant violations that take place. They are acting the role of “silent witnesses” to a major travesty of justice taking place in Bahrain today.

November 2012

1 Project on Middle East Democracy, One Year Later: Assessing Bahrain’s Implementation of the BICI Report, November 2012 -

2 Gardner. F, British Police Investigate Bomb Plot, BBC, 2 July 2012

Prepared 21st November 2013