26th June, 2012: International Day Against Torture

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s speech before the Supreme Court of Appeal 22/5/2012

Gentlemen, President and members of the honorable Supreme Court of Appeal,

Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak before your venerable selves, as I have been deprived of this right throughout the previous stages of the litigation. Kindly note that my statement has been excluded during the investigation as a result of me being subjected to torture.

I, the Bahraini citizen Abdulhadi Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, have been subjected since the April 9th 2011 to arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, psychological and physical torture, sexual assault and unfair trial, without having committed any offense for which I deserve legal punishment, in addition to torture and other violations criminalized by international and national laws. Please note that I do not belong to any association or political group, though this is not an offense in itself but rather a natural right of any human being.

These current and previous violations were in fact motivated by the thorny, difficult path which I have chosen, that is to defend human rights, not only as a matter of specialization and career – given that I am a researcher and trainer in this area – but also that I have decided that my duty is to stand with the oppressed and the victims of various abuses to which they are exposed, disregarding the risks and reactions of those who perpetrated such violations. Thus, my activities and practice involved serious issues such as political and financial corruption, arbitrary detention, torture, the privileges of the ruling class, sectarian and ethnic discrimination, as well as other topics including poverty and the right to human dignity, adequate jobs and housing, and the rights of foreign workers.

And if at the beginning back in the eighties

my activity involved volunteering with the "Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain”, which is considered a wing of one of the opposition political groups, it has, however, been shifted at the beginning of the nineties into working completely independent through founding "The Bahrain Human Rights Organization," which played a fundamental and decisive role in bringing Bahrain out of the era of security of the State, through its activities in Western capitals in collaboration with the United Nations and international human rights organizations. I am honored to have gained then my second nationality when I became a political refugee in the Kingdom of Denmark, which ensured my freedom, dignity and shelter when I was facing persecution in my country of Bahrain. However, I never hesitated in returning to Bahrain in 2001 when I was allowed to, and there I continued carrying out my duty in education and training on human rights issues in Bahrain and abroad, assisting victims of violations to embark on a peaceful movement to demand their rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting human rights violations. As a result, the price I have been paying throughout the past ten years was facing physical assaults by security forces, arrest, detention, unfair trials, smear campaigns, and travel bans. This was the case even during the period from November 2008 to February 2011, during which I worked as a regional coordinator for Frontline Defenders, a leading international organization - based in Dublin and Brussels - which focuses on the protection of human rights defenders all over the world. The fact that I have resigned from my post as president of "The Bahrain Center for Human Rights" before undertaking my work at the international organization; which was not relevant to the situation of human rights in Bahrain – did not make any difference; for an overwhelming spirit of revenge was motivating those who have been targeted by my previous activity due to their responsibility in relation to the perpetration of violations through their positions as security and political officials, as well as them suspecting that – under cover -I have been using my international work to provide aid to local activists in Bahrain.

Then came the events of February 14th, and the subsequent declaration of a state of national safety to make it the right opportunity for revenge, especially that after I witnessing all those dead and injured in the first few days I decided to resign from my international post and to dedicate myself to full-time voluntary work in Bahrain to contribute to the popular peaceful movement and ensure its effectiveness in attaining rights, in addition to monitoring and documenting violations that occurred during the events. To these ends I took part in seminars, delivered speeches and participated in various meetings that were attended by representatives of political associations and groups, including political and civil rights activists, and jurists; in my capacity as an independent human rights defender. Those meetings were held at the headquarters of political associations and residents of political figures, and they were not secret and did not intend to establish new groups or create working plans, they were merely a platform for consultation and exchange of opinions in the midst of escalating and serious events.

It was soon the time for retaliation; after midnight on April 8th 2011 – i.e. three weeks after declaring the state of national safety and granting the military and security services authorization to kill and use excessive force, arbitrary detention and torture, which led in some cases to death. That day, while I was spending the weekend with my wife, daughters and sons in law, heavily armed forces surrounded the building where my two married daughters live, and without warning or warrant, it broke into the building and knocked down the door of the third-floor apartment, then a group of masked security men started beating and kicking me in all parts of my body while dragging me down the stairs. In addition, my hands were cuffed back and my eyes were blindfolded before putting me in one of the cars, when I received a severe blow on the left side of my face with a metal object. This caused me to fall on the ground while severely bleeding due to deep cuts close to the left eye and a number of fractures in the jaw, cheek and nose, prompting them to transfer me to "Al-Qal’a" first then directly to the military hospital where I received stitches and underwent a complex surgery to address bone fractures. x-ray images show about 18 plates and about 40 screws that were used to join fractions.

I stayed at the military hospital for six days, during which I was kept blindfolded and handcuffed to the bed in a painful manner that prevents me from moving. A group of people would come over each night and verbally abuse me and touch my private parts. I was told that they had arrested my daughter Zainab, and after they had done what they wanted with her they had transferred her to a prison in Saudi Arabia. One of them informed me that he was the one who had given me the blow to the face and that there was “more where that came from” after I am moved from the hospital. He also told me that a large man will be waiting to rape me. Instead of a recovery period of three weeks at the hospital I was transferred on the sixth day to a distant place where I learned about two months later that it is “Al-Qareen” military prison.

In AlQareen, I was put in a dark solitary cell for about two months. All guards and nurses were masked. I did not have any contact with the outside world, nor was I allowed to go out in the sun and fresh air. I only had a sponge in the cell, as well as very dirty pillow and blanket. I was only allowed to take a bath after ten days. My head and body bore bruises and bloodstains.

During that period, I was unable to eat anything except for liquids through a tube, and I received medications pertaining to the surgery I had and the resulting pain. Despite that, starting from the second day of my stay in prison night doses of torture began. A group of masked individuals would come after midnight and start horrifying the prisoners through screaming and cursing and hitting the cells’ bars, then they would enter the cells one after another, and subject the detainees to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Each one of us could hear the screams of pain and suffering of those who are in the other cells.

Among those whom I came to know in nearby cells are Mahdi Abu-Deeb, president of the Teachers Association, and the lawyer Mohammed Altajer, and an Islamic scholar, Mr. Mohammed al-Musawi. I used to hear the screams of other detainees in other cells but I could not recognize their identity.

The torture that was inflicted on me during that period included, continued standing with lifting the hands for many hours, beating the back of the head with a heavy tool, blows to the back, beating on the back of the hands with the door lock, beating the feet with shoes, forcing me to kiss pictures of the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia which were put on the cell’s walls, forceful removal of clothing, sodomizing using sticks, indecent insults related to dignity and religious beliefs, forced self-cursing, forced declarations of loyalty to the political leadership, especially the Prime Minister and the Head of the Defense Force, under the threat of beatings and rape.

As a result, I went on hunger strike on the third day in prison, and refused also to receive any medications. This led to further beatings. On the sixth day I was taken to another building in the prison where I was beaten with plastic pipes on my toes and feet to force me to put an end to the strike, or sign a paper stating that I refuse to take food and medicine. Then I was transferred to and I received two units of intravenous infusion. Someone who speaks an Arabic non-Bahraini dialect (a doctor or a nurse) threatened that he will force the tube from my nose to the stomach or puncture my abdomen in order to directly feed the stomach if I insist on continuing with the strike. I have indeed suspended the strike on the seventh day after receiving assurances that torture will stop and that my request to see the doctor who performed the operation is to be met, as I was very concerned about the swelling of my face and not being able to move my jaws. Torture, however, did not stop, and I had to repeat the strike twice in protest of torture during the following two weeks for several hours each time, but the beatings and torture took place in the cell before and after the investigation sessions. At the end of the third week of arrest I was examined at the prison premises and in the presence of prison guards by a forensic doctor, and he hastily took note of some injuries that were still visible on my face, hands and feet. During those same days I was taken twice for interrogation by the military prosecutor where I was subjected to insults and beating during transport to and from the building of military prosecution and at the premises before and after I was entered to talk to the investigator. The shackles and the sac covering my head were only removed while in the interrogation room.

Violent and degrading treatment reoccurred throughout the in following months each time we were taken to attend the court hearings at the National Safety Court. Transportation was undertaken by military police. On one occasion I was singled out of the group as one of those who "will be executed", and they made me hear sounds of arms. Prior to the first hearing at the Military Court, on 7/5/2011 to be specific, an exceptional incident of torture took place. I was allowed to shave and get a suit which had been sent by my family. Late in the evening I was taken by four individuals in a small car to a building located about 15-20 minutes away from where I was held, and there I was seated at a table, my handcuffs were removed as well as the blindfold. I found myself sitting in an elegant office with a young man in civilian clothes, who identified himself as "Sheikh Saqr," a personal representative of the king of Bahrain. He wanted to hear directly from me about the events and the charges against me. The interrogation went on for about an hour and a half, and he eventually asked me if I want to appear on a recording by a television camera which was already prepared, and to apologize to the king for what I did. I told him that I have not done anything to apologize for.

Afterwards I was blindfolded again and taken to an adjacent room where one of the people who brought me there told me that I am sitting on a bed and that they will not beat me, but they will do all other things unless I agree to the apology recording. They proceeded as one of them put my hand on his penis another touched my back with his penis, and put his hand on my derriere, then they started to take off my clothes. I could only do one thing. I eluded them, and hit my head with the ground until I was unconscious. I woke up to find myself in the car traveling at high speed. I was carried and brought back to my prison cell. My forehead was swollen and so was the left side of my face where previous fractures were located. For three days compressors and pain killers were used. On the following day I was visited by the doctor who had performed the surgery and saw how bad my condition was. He demanded that I be transferred immediately for x-rays, but this was only done several days after, and through the transfer of radiation equipment to the prison. I did not see the doctor before a long time, and he only revealed his face to me after about six months. I then knew that he is Dr. Mohammed Al-Muharraqi.

The second incident took place during the second military court hearing, when I demanded the right to speak and was denied that right. I said that I have been subjected to torture and that I was threatened not to mention that to the court. The judge ordered that I be taken out of the courtroom, and I was abused on the way to prison. I was punched, kicked near the gate of the prison and made to stand with a sack on my head and my arms lifted upwards for about an hour. I was then threatened inside the prison “You will see things you haven’t seen yet if you talk again in the courtroom.”

The third incident was on 22/6/2011, at the National Safety Court of first instance, when, after the judge read out the verdict sentencing me to life imprisonment, I shouted and said “We will continue our struggle for freedom and human rights”, and the other defendants were shouting the slogan “A peaceful movement, A people demanding freedom”. We were then taken outside the court premises, handcuffed and beaten with batons by members of military police. my face was hit against the wall and I was bleeding from my the top of my nose. I was also beaten on my joints, bottom of spine, thighs, and wrists. Since I was handcuffed, this caused me to bleed from my wrists. And as I was trying to protect my face, one of them purposefully hit me on where I had surgery for facial fractures until my hand were swollen. We were then taken to the waiting room, and were seated on the floor and they stepped on our backs and shoulders wearing their shoes. When the injuries I had became evident to them I was transferred to the emergency room at the military hospital for treatment. leading the group of guards who took me to hospital was major “Abu Ahmad”, the officer in charge of military guard.

As for my trial before the National Safety Court, the one of first instance and the exceptional court; the court listened to the main prosecution witness, a national order officer who did not have any proof or evidence to support his false allegations pertaining to establishing an organization and plotting to overthrow the regime and the incitement of violence; and held that his sources are secret and that he cannot reveal them. The two other witnesses were national order officer Badr Ibrahim Ghaith and his assistant, who were in charge of my arrest. Their testimony aimed at justifying the severe injuries that I incurred during the arrest. On the other hand, I was not allowed to speak, and my lawyer was not able to call witnesses to testify; his demands to call the forensic doctor or the surgeon who operated on me in order to obtain the medical report were also ignored. He was further prevented from presenting his oral account. The verdicts were already prepared, and I was handed a life sentence.

After that came the report of the Royal “Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry”, which confirmed the abuses to which I have been subjected to, and mandated doctors examined the medical reports, to document all violations that were inflicted on me as detailed in this speech. My case, as well as the cases of other individuals from the same group, were quoted several times in the report, and a summary on my case was outlined under item no. 8 among the cases attached to the report. The report and its recommendations concluded that grave violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention, solitary confinement, psychological and physical abuse, and unfair trial; have occurred. The report denied any legal basis for my arrest and continued detention. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights along with a number of international organizations studied the case file and found that I am a prisoner of conscience, and that I should be immediately released.

Then came the court of cassation verdict of 30/4/2012, stating that the National Safety Court verdict does not outline the crime elements, neither in its Mens rea nor its Actus reus, and is therefore “a void verdict that should be reversed”.

In light of the aforementioned facts, I propose the following:

First: there are no legal grounds for my continued imprisonment, especially after the occurrence of injuries has been proven through medical and forensic reports, and the confirmation of arbitrary arrest torture and unfair trial in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry report, and reports of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and international human rights organizations which affirmed that I am a prisoner of conscience, and that I should be immediately released.

Second: The file in the court’s possession lacks any decisive evidence that links me to the charges in question. Everything that has been presented against me is in fact evidence that supports my acquittal, as they are speeches in which I express my opinion without inciting violence, but rather repeatedly emphasized peaceful work. Then the court of cassation verdict concluded that the crime elements are incomplete.

Third: Given the previous facts, I have began a hunger strike more than a hundred days ago in protest of my continued imprisonment, and I was willing to give away my life to declare disapproval of this injustice to which I and others were subjected, and to demand freedom. The authorities, instead of responding to those fair demands and address the perpetrated violations of my human rights, reacted by confining me for over one month at the military hospital in a state comparable to solitary confinement, and imposed forceful feeding on me through the use of anesthesia, and feeding me through a tube from the nose to the intestines, and the use of intravenous infusions. My demands insisting on going back to prison were only met when I agreed to a program of fluid intake, along with explicit threats that I will be admitted again to the military hospital and forcibly fed in case my health deteriorates, and this constitutes forcible feeding against international laws. I hold political authorities and this court accountable for any danger I might face in the few coming days as a result of my continued hunger strike.

NOTE: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja stopped his hunger strike on the 25th of May 2012 after he delivered this testimony. He decided to stop his hunger strike due to continuous force feeding and because he had been successful at bringing international attention to the situation of political prisoners in Bahrain.

Fourth: I reaffirm the statements that were presented in my defense before the first instance National Safety Court and the National Safety Court of Appeal, as well as the Court of Cassation, as an account of defense in this appeal, and a reference. I also demand that all medical reports and other detailed reports by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry be added as well, in addition to this speech.

Fifth: That I am in this case the victim for defending the rights of others. Those responsible for violation of my rights are the ones who should be brought to justice and punished.

Sixth: Acts of retaliation have targeted members of my family. On the same day when I was arrested, both my sons in law (engineer Wafi Kamel Al-Majid) and (Hussain Ahmad) were arbitrarily arrested, even though they were not otherwise wanted. They have been subjected to psychological and physical torture, and fabricated charges were brought against them, then they were tried in order to justify their imprisonment for one year for Wafi, and six moths for Hussain. My wife was dismissed from her position as a supervisor in a private school in a degrading manner and no explanation was made for this act, in breach of the simplest due process. My sister Fatima Al-Khawaja and her husband Rashid Abdul-Raheem from their positions at the Bahraini Radio without legeal grounds, and they were reinstated only a few months ago. My other sister Huda Al-Khawaja, who runs a law firm in Kuwait and undertakes training; had her passport seized for several months without legal grounds. The element of retaliation in obvious in this case, and this necessitates that there be serious and credible mechanisms to reveal the truth and rectify all injustices to which I and my family were subjected to, and bring those responsible for these violations to justice.

Please accept my highest consideration and esteem.

Abdulhadi Abdullah Al-Khawaja 22/5/2012