Bahrain, torture and football update

This video is called Ebrahim Sharif‘s speech at the Annual Commemoration of Martyr Hussam Al Haddad, July 10, 2015.

In June Bahrain’s king pardoned opposition politician Ebrahim Sharif only to throw him back in jail three weeks later. His wife, Farida Ghulam, writes about the surreal nature of living with a lack of free expression.

By Brian Dooley, Director, Human Rights First’s Human Rights Defenders Program:

FIFA, Man United, and Torture in Bahrain

10/27/2015 12:46 pm EDT

The 2011 targeting of footballers and other athletes in Bahrain following the pro-democracy protests there is threatening Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa’s bid for the FIFA presidency.

Al Khalifa of Bahrain’s ruling family has announced his candidacy for the post this week saying the job required “an experienced, competent and honest leadership capable of winning the confidence of the international football community.”

But then UK newspaper The Guardian uncovered what seems to be a smoking gun document linking him directly to the crackdown, suggesting he was a senior member of a special committee set up to identify athletes who took part in the demonstrations.

AP estimated that more than 150 athletes, coaches, and referees were targeted, and some jailed for their perceived part in the protests.

In May 2011 I was in Bahrain researching the crackdown and found other human rights violations related to football and specifically Manchester United.

I met the family of Ahmad Shams, a 15-year-old boy who was shot by the police, according to his family, while wearing a Man United shirt about six weeks before. He was playing football with his friends near his home in Sar on March 30, 2011, when his family says he was killed by security forces. Around 5:30 p.m. in a quiet area, two groups of security vehicles appeared, nine in all. When the boys playing saw them they ran, and the police started shooting rubber bullets at them.

They say Ahmed was hit by a “sound bomb” cartridge on the back of his head. He continued running, but was caught and beaten by the police. His father took him to a relative’s house and then to the American Mission hospital. While being examined by a doctor, his family says security troops came and took him to the main Salmaniya Hospital, where he died, still wearing a Manchester United shirt.

An international commission of inquiry into what happened during the crackdown on protestors ordered by the Bahraini government found that “No autopsy was conducted and no formal cause of death has been recorded,” and that “The MoI [Ministry of the Interior] has failed to conduct an effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding this death.”

Ahmed’s bedroom wall had posters of Wayne Rooney and others of the 2010-2011 United team. In the weeks after his death, some people in Bahrain wrote to Man United ambitiously asking if they might hold a minute’s silence before one of their games in tribute to Ahmed. People sent emails to the Man United account making the request. One of them was Dr. Fatima Haji, a rheumatologist in Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Complex, and a Ryan Giggs fan.

With dozens of other medics, she was arrested after treating injured protestors and tortured in custody. But her interrogation was a bit different; she had written the email asking for the minute’s silence and then deleted it, knowing it might be incriminating. When she was arrested on April 17 her laptop was taken too, and a few days later — with tragic efficiency — Man United responded to her email, which her interrogators then saw.

“I was blindfolded and handcuffed with my hands behind my back, and beaten,” she told me. “A man asked me ‘What is your relationship with Alex Ferguson?’ I was shocked and figured out they’d gone through my emails. A female officer hit me on the head on both sides at the same time — she was wearing what I later found out was a special electrical band on her hands and she electrocuted me a couple of times — I felt a shock wave through my head. It was very painful and the whole world was spinning. I was beaten again on the head.”

Haji says she was questioned over and over again about her connection to Manchester United: “because they’d responded to my email the police thought I somehow knew someone at Manchester United.” She spent several weeks in custody and was tried with 19 other medics in a military court. She was sentenced to five years in prison and finally acquitted on appeal in June 2012. One of her co-accused, Dr. Ali Alekry, is still in prison.

Man United has run football camps in Bahrain since then, and the regime is proud of its links with major international sporting brands — it hosts an annual Formula 1 grand prix. Winning the FIFA presidency would be a major coup for the monarchy.

But opposition to Al Khalifa’s bid is growing. Guardian sportswriter Marina Hyde described Sheikh Al Khalifa as a “monstrous arsehole… whose ascent to football primacy has been a classic riches-to-riches story.” Even FIFA — known for its tolerance of corruption and an embarrassing leadership — must realize having Sheikh Al Khalifa in charge would damage its reputation beyond repair.

Torture claims hit Sheikh Salman’s bid for Fifa presidency: here.

Rights Groups Deplore Bahrain Royal’s Entry in Race to Lead FIFA: here.

Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman ‘headed committee targeting athletes in Bahrain protests’. Sheikh Salman named in document announcing setting up of committee: here.

Bahraini Sheikh Salman’s human rights record scrutinized ahead of FIFA election: here.

Bad news for Platini as his appeal against suspension is struck down: here.

Bahrain, human rights violations and football

This video, from Code Pink in the USA, says about itself:

Solidarity with Zainab Al-Khawaja!

17 October 2014

Zainab Al-Khawaja is a human rights activist who was arrested for simply tearing up a picture of the Bahraini King— now she faces up to 7 years in prison!!! This is just one example of the Bahraini monarchy’s ongoing human rights abuses and we are appalled (but not surprised) that the American government continues to maintain a cozy relationship with such a repressive regime. Join CODEPINK at the Bahraini Embassy in DC today (Oct 17, 2014) at 2:30pm as we tear up pictures of the king too!

From Human Rights First:

October 20, 2015

Bahrain Should Dismiss Cases Against Human Rights Defender Zainab Al Khawaja

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the Bahraini authorities to immediately dismiss the outstanding cases against prominent human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja. A Bahraini court is scheduled to hold hearings on the consolidated appeals for three politically-motivated charges against her tomorrow, October 21. An appeal hearing in another case against Al Khawaja is set for next month.

“Jailing Zainab Al Khawaja will only cement Bahrain’s international reputation as a country where peaceful dissent is a criminal act,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Bahrain needs people like Zainab to solve its human rights crisis. Putting her and other peaceful dissidents in prison makes that much more difficult. The U.S. government has rightly called for charges against her to be dismissed, and should once again press the Bahraini government to drop all charges as these hearings approach.”

Wednesday’s hearings coincide with Al Khawaja’s 32nd birthday. Al Khawaja faces cumulative sentences of over five years on charges of tearing up pictures of the king, for insulting a public official, and for trespassing in the vicinity of the jail where her father Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is in prison. If the convictions are upheld, Al Khawaja’s imprisonment would separate her from her six-year-old daughter. She also has a son who is less than one year old and is still nursing, and he would stay with her in prison.

Al Khawaja, who attended Beloit University in Wisconsin, spent most of 2013 in prison for peacefully protesting against the repressive Bahraini regime. In addition to the charges being heard on Wednesday, she also faces a separate appeals hearing on November 17 on charges brought after she sought to visit her father, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, in prison in August 2014. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja is one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders. He is currently serving a life sentence for his peaceful part in 2011 protests. Zainab Al Khawaja’s sister, Maryam Al Khawaja, has been sentenced in absentia to a year in prison and lives in exile.

The Bahraini government has failed to fully implement the recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report which would set the country on a path toward necessary reforms. The charges against Al Khawaja are further evidence of Bahrain’s lack of meaningful progress on human rights issues.

Many opposition leaders jailed during the 2011 protests remain in prison, and Bahrain continues to jail those peacefully expressing their views, both online and offline. Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to publicly press the Bahraini regime to release its political prisoners and promote an inclusive political solution to its crisis. Human Rights First also urges members of Congress to support S. 2009 and H.R. 3445, legislation that would ban the transfer of small arms to the Bahraini military until the 26 recommendations in the 2011 BICI report have been fully implemented.

For more information or to speak with Dooley, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at or 212-845-5269.

Today’s appeal verdict against Bahraini activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, confirming her conviction on charges of “insulting” the King of Bahrain and reducing her three-year prison sentence to one year, is the latest example of the authorities’ total disregard for the right to freedom of expression, said Amnesty International: here.

Human rights group wants Sheikh Salman barred from Fifa presidency bid. Sheikh Salman accused of crackdown against pro-democracy athletes. Bahraini Fifa executive committee member has not yet said he will stand: here.

Human Rights Group Urges FIFA to Bar Bahraini From Running for President. Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, head of Asian confederation, has yet to run, but activists assert he was involved in crackdown against pro-democracy athletes: here.

Fifa president Issa Hayatou urged to prevent Sheikh Salman from campaigning for “crimes against humanity”. Chaos threatens to engulf the race to succeed Sepp Blatter at Fifa after allegations he aided a crackdown against pro-democracy athletes in Bahrain: here.

Sepp Blatter’s authorisation of Michel Platini payment ‘was conflict of interest’: here.

Fifa has confirmed cases against Franz Beckenbauer and Angel Maria Villar are being examined by the adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee: here. And here.

FIFA’s ethics committee took less than a day to exercise some of its new transparency powers, confirming on Wednesday that it was actively investigating nearly a dozen current and former officials: here.

FIFA, from Sepp Blatter to Bahraini royal dictatorship?

This video from Ireland says about itself:

Medic Dr Nada Dhaif who was tortured in Bahrain speaks out in Dublin 7th June 2012

End Persecution of Medical Workers in Bahrain: Dublin Solidarity Demonstration

This is the full speech delivered by medic Dr Nada Dhaif who was tortured in Bahrain.

Witness Bahrain Ireland this Tuesday had a demonstration in support of doctors, nurses, and other medical workers persecuted by the Bahrain regime for doing their jobs.

Following pro-democracy protests in February and March of 2011, doctors, nurses and other medical and health care workers in Bahrain, some of them trained in Ireland, were arrested, tortured and sentenced by a military court for treating injured demonstrators. Following the military court verdict, sentencing some of the doctors and nurses to 15 years in prison, the health professionals were retried in ‘Special Civilian Courts’ for multiple charges against the Regime. They now await their ultimate verdict, which is expected on Thursday 14th June, 2012.

Witness Bahrain held a vigil outside the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) at 1pm on Tuesday 12th June to highlight the plight of RCSI’s Alumni and Staff, as well as to protest RCSI’s silence in the face of this persecution. They proceeded to Dail Eireann to lobby public representatives.

FIFA, the international football association, may well get out of the Sepp Blatter frying pan into the Bahraini royal family dictatorship fire.

From daily The Guardian in Britain today:

Human rights organisations have reacted with alarm to the Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa becoming the new favourite to succeed Sepp Blatter as Fifa president, citing his family’s role in the brutal suppression of the country’s pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

From i24 news:

Human rights organizations furious over FIFA bid from Bahraini royal

Candidate accused of arresting, torturing athletes who participated in Bahrain’s 2011 pro-democracy protests

The head of Asian football is poised to announce a bid for the FIFA presidency, a source told AFP on Friday, in an opportunistic move which would dramatically reshape the election race.

Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa could make a formal announcement as early as Friday and would be a serious challenger as the leader of FIFA’s second-largest confederation.

A bid by the Bahraini royal would be another major blow to the already suspended Michel Platini, who he formerly backed, and Shaikh Salman’s Asian rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

FIFA has been thrown into turmoil with outgoing chief Sepp Blatter, former favorite Platini and South Korean candidate Chung Mong-Joon all suspended, and corruption allegations engulfing the world body.

Despite mounting sleaze claims and criminal charges against senior figures including Blatter, FIFA elections are still planned to go ahead on February 26 with Platini among the candidates who have until October 26 to register.

Shaikh Salman’s won a landslide election in 2013 to succeed disgraced Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam as president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

This year, he was re-elected unopposed for a full, four-year term and became a FIFA vice president, assuming the post previously held by his rival and FIFA candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan.

However, Shaikh Salman’s bid to become FIFA chief is raising alarms with human rights activists.

His 2013 election win followed a bruising campaign in which he was accused of human rights abuses over a round-up of football players and officials during Bahrain’s 2011 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Activist are highlighting claims that some of the Bahraini athletes identified as pro-democracy protesters in 2011 were imprisoned and tortured.

“Since the peaceful anti-government protests of 2011, which the authorities responded to with brutal and lethal force, the al-Khalifa family have overseen a campaign of torture and mass incarceration that has decimated Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement,” said Nicholas McGeehan, the Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“If a member of Bahrain’s royal family is the cleanest pair of hands that FIFA can find, then the organization would appear to have the shallowest and least ethical pool of talent in world sport,” he continued.

According to British newspaper the Guardian, a letter was sent from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) to Michael Garcia, then head of the investigatory unit of the Fifa ethics committee, calling for an investigation into Sheikh Salman’s role in “systematically targeting and mistreating athletes who have taken part in anti-government protests”.

In 2011 AP reported that more than 150 athletes, coaches and referees were detained after a special committee, led by Sheikh Salman who was then head of the Bahrain Football Association, identified them as participants in the protests.

BIRD alleged that these actions violated Fifa’s Code of Ethics, but Garcia responded to BIRD in January 2014 to say that the claims were outside the investigatory chamber’s jurisdiction.

“Fifa has a statutory duty to protect the integrity and reputation of football in Bahrain,” BIRD said. However Garcia still refused to open an investigation.

Sayed Al Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD said that “in attempting to get rid of its corruption crisis Fifa is now set to replace one allegedly corrupt official with another.”

“Salman is accused of involvement in a campaign of abuse against athletes in Bahrain, something FIFA is aware of and has refused to investigate. Salman’s appointment would be absurd,” he continued.

Shaikh Salman als enjoys the strong backing of Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah, who was elected to FIFA’s executive committee at the April congress and is also a major player in the Olympic movement. …

Peter Velappan, a long-time AFC secretary general from 1978-2007, said he wanted an Asian candidate to lead the world body, but he warned: “Running FIFA is not a small job.

“I don’t think many people are happy with him (Shaikh Salman). He is the leader of the AFC but he has not been seen as doing enough for Asia,” said Velappan.

The English Football Association has suspended its support of UEFA chief Michel Platini in his bid to become the next FIFA president. The FA made the decision following a meeting of UEFA’s 54 members in Nyon on Thursday held to discuss the future of Platini who is being investigated over a 1.8 million euro payment he received from outgoing FIFA head Sepp Blatter in 2011: here.

200 days and counting: On hunger strike in Bahrain’s Jau Prison: here.

From IFEX human rights organisation:

Send birthday wishes of freedom to activist Zainab AlKhawaja


Friday 16th October, 2015

Bahraini human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja should be celebrating her 32nd birthday on 21 October. Instead, on this day, Zainab could be taken to jail to serve combined prison sentences of over five years for tearing up a picture of the King during a court hearing in 2014, and for allegedly insulting a police officer, along with other charges.

After tearing the King’s picture, Zainab (@AngryArabiya) tweeted this statement to her thousands of supporters around the world:

Ripping his pic is a 1st step to let him know that we are not afraid, that we are determined to gain our rights, to live as free ppl Bahrain. She has also thanked supporters on twitter, saying:

“My love and respect to all the people of Bahrain who continue to sacrifice every day so that someday our children can be free. And thank you to all those who stand up and speak out on behalf of the people of Bahrain. You restore our faith in humanity.”

Participating in the Gulf Center for Human Right‘s Thunderclap campaign to flood the twitter-sphere with birthday wishes on 20 October, along with messages proclaiming that tearing a photo is NotaCrime and calling for Zainab’s conviction to be quashed. Tweeting a personal message or photo to @AngryArabiya and @GulfCentre4HR with the hashtags #NotaCrime and #HappyBirthdayZainab. Zainab is a mother to two young children. If she goes to jail, she will be accompanied by her infant son, which is not an uncommon practice when women human rights defenders are jailed in Bahrain.

Thank you for taking action.

Bahrain: 188 torture cases in 6 months…Sentences up to 2783 years in prison: here.

Bahrain dictatorship’s genital torture of teenager

Khalil Al-Saffar, before and after torture

From AhlulBayt news agency in Britain:

Bahraini boy stripped of his clothes & beaten on his genitals

October 4, 2015 – 9:57 AM

The European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR) said that it received information stating that detainee Khalil Ibrahim Al-Saffar, who suffers from a cerebral laceration, is being tortured in the Criminal Investigation Department.

EBOHR explained in a statement issued on Wednesday (September 23, 2015) that “we received information about the torture detainee Khalil Al-Saffar is being subjected to in the Criminal Investigation Department. He was stripped of his clothes, beaten on his genitals, beaten by batons and plastic cables on his body parts until he fainted and was transferred to the Al-Qala’a hospital.”

The organization further stated that “Khalil was returned to the Criminal Investigation Department after that and was tortured more than once,” adding that “he is being tortured 3 times a day for more than an hour and a half. He is put inside a small cold room that causes him headaches.”

EBOHR published medical reports about Al-Saffar’s cerebral laceration. He underwent a bone grafting surgery on March 16, 2012 and needed another surgery on June 2012. He underwent a third surgery during which they put a plastic piece in his skull to replace the broken one.

Al-Saffar still suffers from bouts of cramps which require him to take medication continuously.

The organization expressed its deep concern about what Al-Saffar is being exposed to and demanded the United States, Britain, United Nations and international human rights organizations to pressure the Bahraini government into releasing him. Al-Saffar was arrested on September 15, 2015, after civilian forces backed by security forces raided his home in Bilad Al-Qadeem.

His family said that he was taken to the Interior Ministry bus after his home was searched and his mobile phone was confiscated. After his mother asked about the reason behind her son’s arrest, one of the civilians told the family that they will interrogate him for an hour and then release him. No one knows anything about him since more than 8 days ago.

A human rights NGO run by Irish lawyers has submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) that Ireland may be in breach of international law, owing to the Irish Medical Council’s (IMC) decision last December to grant RCSI-Medical University in Bahrain (RCSI-MUB) accreditation. This came amid alleged human rights abuses, including the torture of injured pro-demonstrators and medics who treated them, by the Gulf state’s ruling regime within the training hospitals it uses: here.

Bahraini authorities should immediately release the unjustly imprisoned political opposition leaders Ibrahim Sharif and Sheikh Ali Salman: here.

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on the U.S. Embassy in Manama to send observers to the trial against opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif, and to publicly state whether the trial meets international legal standards. Sharif, a leader of the peaceful opposition group Waad, is currently on trial in Bahrain for comments made during a speech calling for reform. The next hearing is scheduled for Monday, October 12: here.

Bahrain: Ongoing judicial harassment against Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja: here.

15,000 US citizens sign bill urging the congress to stop arms sales to Bahrain: here.

Bahrain human rights violations update

This video says about itself:

Dr. Rula Al-Saffar: “Jaw Prison holds over 3000 detainees”

18 February 2014

Dr. Rula Al-Saffar also presented some powerful statistics and case studies, focusing more specifically on the conditions of political prisoners. She retold the stories of Talib Ali, a 15 year old with a 50 year conviction sentence, and Dr. Ali-Ekri, the only specialized paediatrics surgeon in Bahrain who is facing a 5 year sentence simply for treating patients of the uprising. Of the largest prison in Bahrain — Jaw prison — she described how the maximization of the prison’s 1600 people capacity is being overlooked to the extent where the prison now holds over 3000 detainees, with up to 12 inmates having to share cells built for 3-4 people.


A Bahraini doctor — tortured and imprisoned for treating patients — pleads to the US for help

Ali Al Ekri

Sep 29, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

JAW PRISON, Bahrain — I’m in prison in Bahrain, one of 20 medics sentenced to jail by a military court four years ago this month after we had treated injured protestors during the demonstrations for reform in early 2011.

We were tortured and forced to confess to crimes we hadn’t committed. I’m a consultant orthopedic pediatric surgeon. I trained in Ireland. I was operating on a child on March 17, 2011 when soldiers came to the theater to arrest me. It was a Thursday afternoon.

They took me to a military facility where I was beaten and tortured. I lost consciousness several times. I was sexually molested and forced to eat feces. After three weeks of being blindfolded and handcuffed I was forced to sign a confession I hadn’t even read, to crimes I hadn’t done. I wasn’t allowed to see a lawyer for any of that time.

Over 50 medics were arrested and tortured and 20 of us were given a mass trial in a military court. We were all found guilty on charges including ludicrous things like stockpiling weapons and trying to overthrow the government. The public prosecution claimed I was somehow the medics’ ringleader. Our verdicts were announced in September 2011.

I was originally given 15 years, later reduced to five years after an appeal in an unfair civilian court. The US-based organization Human Right First was in the appeals court and reported how the judge refused to hear evidence about my torture or the torture of my colleagues.

At the time the United States government said it was “deeply disturbed” about what had happened to us. The State Department had sent observers to our trials, and they saw for themselves how unfair the [hearings] were.

American officials can’t claim they didn’t know the truth about what happened to us. [The US government] knows no one in the Bahrain military has been brought to account for the torture.

The rest of the medics tried with me have now all been released from jail, but the prisons here are still full of political dissidents.

Prison life is hard. Jaw Prison, where I am, is horribly overcrowded already and more inmates are arriving every week and the unrest continues. In March mass disturbances broke out and many prisoners were attacked. With hundreds of others, I was forced to sleep outside in a tent for months afterwards. There are so many in jail here who aren’t allowed access to the medical treatment they need.

Sometimes it seems a long time to the end of my sentence. I’m losing the skills I need to do my job, to perform surgery on children. It’s not something you can just pick up easily again after not doing it for years. There are young patients who need my skills, and who want me to continue treating them.

The State Department says Bahrain has made “meaningful progress on human rights.” I can see all around me, every day, how wrong that is. I see hundreds of people who shouldn’t be in prison, many of them have been tortured, none of them given a fair trial.

Four years ago I treated injured protestors and told the media the truth about what was happening in Bahrain. I don’t regret doing my duty as a medic, but I’m disappointed Washington hasn’t done its duty in standing up for us.

Dr. Ali Al Ekri is a consultant surgeon who trained at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He was among dozens of health professionals arrested in Bahrain in 2011. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison by Bahrain’s security court for alleged involvement in the country’s uprisings. The sentence was later reduced to 5 years.

On September 15, Jaafar Al-Hasabi, a Bahraini citizen granted asylum in the United Kingdom, filed a criminal complaint in Switzerland against Bahrain’s attorney general, Ali Bin Fadhul Al-Buainain. Al-Hasabi says he was held in incommunicado detention in Bahrain, where he was subjected to torture, including electric shocks. The complaint alleges that the Bahraini Public Prosecution Office, headed by Al-Buainain, authorized his detention twice, despite the United Nations’ expressed concerns: here.

A Bahraini public relations offensive has signed up for help from an organisation described as a ‘pro-Israel propaganda outfit’. The revelation is likely to prove controversial in Bahrain, which does not formally recognise Israel and where popular support for the Palestinian cause is very high. See more here.

Bahrain continues to repress dissidents as US dithers. Washington arms Gulf monarchy despite human rights violations: here.

Bahrain’s uprising: resistance and repression in the Gulf: here.