26 March 2018 – Today, Bahrain’s Fourth High Criminal Court sentenced 9 defendants, including Sayed Nizar Alwadaei (19), the brother in law of prominent Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, to 7 years imprisonment for allegedly setting fire to a car owned by the Ministry of Interior with Molotov Cocktails. With today’s ruling, Sayed Nizar has now been convicted in three separate trials and is serving 13 years in prison.
All defendants involved in the case were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment except for one, who was instead sentenced to three years. The court also imposed a fine of BHD14,000 to be split among all 9 convicts. The trial was flawed and used evidence obtained under torture, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said today.
BIRD strongly condemns the sentence and urges the Bahraini authorities to quash the verdict.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said “Today’s ruling is another indictment of Bahrain’s absurdly unjust “justice” system. Confessions extracted under torture have become the norm in Bahraini courts. The perpetrators of torture in Bahrain are thriving under a culture of impunity because of Bahrain’s close relationship with London and Washington”
Sayed Nizar’s Flawed Trial
Sayed Nizar’s conviction is the latest example of how Bahrain’s corrupt courts depend on coerced confessions extracted under torture to convict victims of abuse.
BIRD has obtained documents belonging to the public prosecution, which once again, failed to establish forensic evidence linking Sayed Nizar or any of the defendants to the alleged crime. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Forensic Labs, both fingerprints and DNA resulted negative.
The conviction of the nine defendants is based on the testimonies provided by two of them to the Public Prosecutor, without the presence of a lawyer. At the time of the interrogation, the two had clear abrasions on their bodies. One of them did not initially mention Sayed Nizar as one of the defendants involved in the case. It was only after the Public Prosecutor questioned him about whether Sayed Nizar was also involved, that Sayed Nizar’s name came up. During the entire trial, all defendants have repeatedly denied the charges against them. The two defendants who provided the testimonies against the remaining seven told the judge their confessions were extracted under torture. However, the judged dismissed their allegations.
Furthermore, the Public Prosecution has committed a significant error in its description of Sayed Nizar’s latest charges in his prosecution documents. They erroneously reported that on 01 June 2017 Sayed Nizar was a ‘fugitive’, and therefore was not interrogated by the Public Prosecution to confirm the alleged crime. In actual fact, Sayed Nizar had been in the custody of the Bahraini Ministry of Interior since 2 March 2017, when he was first arrested. This raises serious concerns as to the seriousness of the investigation conducted by the Public Prosecution to confirm the charges.
Today’s harsh sentencing represents the latest escalation in the reprisals against the family members of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, who is the Director of the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).
- Sayed Nizar’s Additional Charges
In addition to the 7 years and the fine, Sayed Nizar is currently serving 6 years in prison as a result of two different cases, based on similar charges.
- First case
On 30 October 2017, Sayed Nizar was sentenced to three years in prison on politically-motivated charges of planting a fake bomb in January 2017. His mother Hajar Mansoor Hassan and his cousin Mahmood Marzooq were also convicted in the same case. BIRD has read the ruling of the 30 October conviction: the High Criminal Court failed to establish any physical evidence linking the defendants to the alleged crime, and ignored the defendants’ allegations of torture, refusing to call for an investigation. On 20 December, the Court upheld the sentence.
On 17 November, a spokesperson for the US Department of State stated “We’re concerned by those allegations. We have heard that their confessions were obtained under duress. That would certainly be a major concern of ours”.
- Second Case
On 29 November, Sayed Nizar was sentenced to a further three-year imprisonment base on identical, politically-motivated charges of implanting a fake bomb in January 2017. On 8 February 2018, the sentence was upheld.
- The Complicity of Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior Ombudsman
Since August 2017, BIRD has been requesting the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, which is mandated to investigate allegations of torture, to conduct an investigation into accounts of ill-treatment and torture put forth by Sayed Nizar, Hajer Mansoor Hassan and Mahmood Marzooq Manzoor. The office has steadfastly dismissed the issue. On 20 November 2017, the Ombudsman revealed to Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei that ‘there was clear evidence of a criminal act’ committed against Sayed Nizar in March 2017. The Ombudsman, however, failed to disclose its findings to the family and lawyers. This represents a huge miscarriage of justice as it might have destroyed the grounds of Sayed Nizar’s conviction. Notably, the moment BIRD highlighted the issue in their last letter on 2 March, the Ombudsman retracted their statement on ‘criminal act’, by saying “it was incorrectly interpreted” by their own staff.
- Escalation of Reprisals: Duaa Alwadaei
Last week, Sayed Nizar’s sister and wife of Sayed Ahmed, Duaa Alwadaei, was sentenced to two months in prison for allegedly insulting a public official.
Commenting on her case, the US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticised Duaa’s sentence and urged the Kingdom of Bahrain not to prosecute free speech.
Ms. Nauert stated: “We saw the report that a Bahraini criminal court sentenced her in absentia to … two months in prison for allegedly insulting a state institution. Really? […] We strongly urge the government to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that includes the freedom of expression.”