When teenagers Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad were jailed at Bahrain’s Jaw Prison, the authorities there had to make special uniforms to fit them because there were none available in their size.
The boys’ conundrum is symbolic of a much wider problem facing scores of children being held in adult prisons in Bahrain.
Children as young as 15 are tried as adults, in violation of Bahrain’s obligations to treat all child suspects in accordance with the rules and principles of juvenile justice. Once behind bars, 15-17 year-olds in Bahrain are detained alongside adults which puts them at greater risk of abuse and their needs as children are disregarded.
On and around 1 June, the International Day for the Protection of Children, Amnesty International is calling on the Bahraini authorities to quash the convictions of children who have been tried as adults and order retrials in courts that adhere to the principle that all children must be tried according to the rules of juvenile justice. They also must transfer all prisoners under the age of 18 to juvenile detention facilities and ensure that they are protected from torture or other ill-treatment.
“Children’s rights cannot be discarded when it’s convenient for the authorities,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“International law requires special treatment for children suspected of crimes. The Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that the detention of children should be a last resort and that children in detention should be held separately from adults in facilities that meet their particular needs.”
A decade behind bars
Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad, aged 16 and 17, are currently appealing 10-year sentences imposed on them on 4 April this year.
The two teenagers were arrested on 23 July 2012 during an anti-government protest in Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of the capital Manama.
For nearly 48 hours after their arrest, they were not allowed to speak to their families and there was no lawyer present during their interrogation.
Both boys told their families they had been beaten after their arrest – Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman claimed police beat him on the back and head with the back of a weapon.
Both have also said they were forced to sign “confessions” without a lawyer or a family member present, and were formally charged as adults under articles of the Bahrain Penal Code and the 2006 anti-terrorism law with “intending to murder”, “burning a police car”, “illegal gathering and rioting”, “throwing Molotov cocktails” and “attempting to steal a police car”.
From the day after their arrest, Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad were held in the Dry Dock Prison for adults while put on trial.
Their trial, together with adults, started on 16 October 2012 before the High Criminal Court in Manama. During the trial, the boys recanted their forced “confessions”, but they did not have an opportunity to tell the court about their arrest and ill-treatment.
Several police officers were among the witnesses the prosecution brought before the High Criminal Court – who, over the course of several hearings, gave inconsistent testimony, including claims that they were injured during the incident.
On 4 April, the High Criminal Court in Manama issued convicted Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad to 10 years’ imprisonment each, while the men tried with them each received 10 and 15 years’ jail time. The defendants’ families were not allowed into the courtroom to hear the verdict.
That evening, the children were transferred to Bloc 3 of Jaw Prison for adults and held along with men aged 20 and over.
The appeal trial began on 20 May this year, but Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman was not present because – the authorities told his lawyer – he was being held in solitary confinement as a punishment measure for his alleged involvement in a fight that broke out a week earlier in the cell holding the two teenagers.
Prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab – who is also currently being held in Jaw Prison – said he witnessed prison guards beating several young men following the alleged incident. Most of them were then held in solitary confinement, including two other children, Mustafa al-Miqdad and Ali ‘Omran, both aged 17.
The next appeal hearing for Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad has been set for 17 June.
“The Bahraini authorities must quash the verdicts against Jehad and Ebrahim, which were arrived at in violation of international law, and set aside their sentences. If they are to be retried for any offence, it must be done according to the rules of juvenile justice,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Their allegations of torture and other ill-treatment during their arrest and detention must be fully investigated, with those responsible brought to justice in fair trials.”
From the Bahraini authorities’ treatment and public statements about the boys’ case, it is evident that a major issue is the official denial that there is anything wrong with treating anyone above the age of 15 as an adult offender.
As recently as this week, Osama al-Awfi, the chief prosecutor in their case, said that they are considered adults under Bahraini law, since they were over the age of 15 at the time the crime was committed.
“This view is at odds with international standards and criminal justice procedures in most countries,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child – to which Bahrain is a state party – is clear that: “every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so”.
In addition to Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad, it is believed there are scores of other children being held alongside adult prisoners in Bahrain.
In a report issued in November last year, Amnesty International documented scores of cases of children under the age of 18 being held in adult prisons and detention centres.
Many of them were arrested in the context of anti-government protests and accused of “illegal gathering” and rioting and have complained about torture and other ill-treatment by police and their rights of defence being trampled.
Amnesty International visited Jaw prison in January and continues to regularly receive new reports about children being held with adults in Bahrain.