14 July 2017 – Women’s rights activist Ebtisam Al-Sayegh’s ill-treatment continues into its eleventh day, as the US calls for her release. Authorities of the Isa Town Women Detention Centre, where Ebtisam is held in solitary confinement, have further isolated her by moving all inmates to cells far away from her.
BIRD condemns the arbitrary reprisals against Ebtisam human rights work. BIRD warns that she was tortured and sexually abused by authorities in May, and that her lengthy interrogations and health deterioration. She is at a very high risk of ill-treatment or torture.
The US State Department called for her release yesterday, 13 July: “We continue to do is call upon the authorities in Bahrain to not only ensure she has access to adequate medical care, but also to release her. We’re also aware of some disturbing reports that she was abused, allegedly, during her detention back in May. We continue to urge the Bahraini authorities to investigate those allegations and thoroughly, impartially, and hold anyone who was responsible for that to the appropriate account.”
Amnesty International has also released a statement today.
Ebtisam, who was arrested on 3 July, has been subjected to continuous, daily interrogations lasting over twelve hours. On 12 July, she was taken to be interrogated at an unknown location for 18 hours, from 9 AM to 3 AM. On 13 July, she was taken for interrogation at 12 PM and returned around 3 AM. Inmates could hear her screaming, crying and banging on her door in solitary confinement. The inmates were transferred to a section of a prison where she could not be heard.
These lengthy interrogations have occurred daily since her arrest 11 days ago. Officers believed to be from the National Security Agency have interrogated and ill-treated her. These interrogations last from morning until night, for up to 13 hours a day.
Ebtisam was also on hunger strike in protest of her arbitrary detention and denial of access to her lawyer and family. Her lawyer has been prevented from attending her interrogations and she has been barred from meeting her family. The intense interrogations have led to a serious health deterioration in Ebtisam’s health. She suffers an irregular heartbeat, tingling in her left hand, low sugar levels and blood pressure and abdominal bloating caused by irritable bowel syndrome. She was treated at the Ministry of Interior clinic, then returned for further interrogations.
Since Ebtisam’s arrest last week, the women’s prison has been under lock down. She was allowed to receive clothes at Isa Town prison for the first time earlier this week, after 7 days of detention.
In May, NSA agents interrogated and sexually abused her (see below). The NSA is a law enforcement body run by Talal Al Khalifa, a royal family member and Royal Military Academy Sandhurst graduate.
Forces arrested woman human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Sayegh at 11.45 PM (GMT+3) in a raid on her home. Masked, civilian-clothed officers conducted the arrest. BIRD has spoken to Ebtisam’s family, who believe she was arrested by members of the NSA. No arrest warrant was presented. Their home was raided again days later, and all the family’s mobile phones were confiscated.
No charges have been brought against Ebtisam.
Previous Arrest and Torture
On 26 May 2017, Al-Sayegh was summoned to Muharraq Police Station for questioning: there she was detained and tortured by NSA officers. The summons was in relation to her human rights activities: Al-Sayegh had been documenting the abuses in Duraz, where police killed five protesters and arrested nearly 300 more on 23 May. The UN has called the killings unlawful.
While there, NSA agents tortured and sexually abused Al-Sayegh. In an interview with BIRD, Al-Sayegh told BIRD: “The interrogator said ‘We are not the Criminal Investigation Directorate, we are the intellegence, and I am called the Torturer, my hobby is torture, my profession is to torture. I have the art of torture.’ He feels he is a torturer, and if I scream from now till tomorrow in this building, no one will be able to hear me or save me, not rights groups, not the UN, nothing.”
Al-Sayegh was blindfolded during the interrogation. She told BIRD: “He said ‘Extend your hand, what is this?’ I touched it, it was a sandal. He said, ‘I will use it to hit you over the head if you don’t answer.'”
“There was more than one man. They used their hands. I could hear the sound and heat of a lighter close to me. He was smoking throughout the interrogation and this lighter, in his hand, he kept lighting it. I was thinking, will he burn me? It was very close to me and I could feel its heat. I could hear the electric machine, but they didn’t use it. I heard it close to me.”
Al-Sayegh described to BIRD being sexually abused by the interrogator. She told BIRD: “I said, ‘Don’t touch me! Why do you touch me? Don’t touch me.’ He replied to me, ‘Don’t say to me violation, say to me: interrogation. In interrogations, we can do what we want. We are now in an interrogation. If I hear the word violation—’ and he hit me on the head.”
Amnesty International reported on her torture: “When she arrived [at Muharraq], she was immediately blindfolded, and in the subsequent hours, she was sexually assaulted, beaten all over her body, kicked in the stomach and kept standing for most of the seven hours she was being interrogated.” Read Amnesty International’s statement on Ebtisam Al-Sayegh here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde11/6392/2017/en/
Al-Sayegh was also detained in March on her return from Geneva, where she had participated in the UN Human Rights Council. In June, the UN human rights experts called on Bahrain to “halt its orchestrated crackdown on civil society.”
National Security Agency (NSA)
In January, the King of Bahrain empowered the NSA with law enforcement powers, reversing one of the only Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) reforms his government had implemented since the 2011 Arab Spring events.
Sheikh Talal bin Mohammad Al Khalifa was appointed Director of the NSA in August 2016. Sheikh Talal, a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, is the son of a former Minister of Interior and brother to Sheikh Fawaz, the ambassador in London.
The NSA has offices in Muharraq Police Station. Human rights groups have recorded a rise in allegations of torture and arbitrary detentions by the NSA since April 2016.