Bahrain rejects Shi'ite teenager's claim of police abuse

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 27, 2012 9:09 AM
Bahrain rejects Shi'ite teenager's claim of police abuse

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA (Reuters) - A Bahraini Shi'ite Muslim teenager said three men who appeared to be plainclothes detectives abducted him last week, dragged him into a garage and beat him into unconsciousness after he refused to spy on youths involved in clashes with riot police.

Ali Singace's case has raised questions about rights reform in Bahrain after public prosecutors accused him of filing a false report about the alleged effort by police to force him to work as an informer.

"I was walking alone when a car came behind me. One got out and pushed me into a garage. Then they closed the door and one said, 'We don't want to repeat the question again: we want you to work with us'," said Singace, a slight 16-year-old who admits he takes part in clashes with police where he lives in Sanabis.

He said the men, who had also approached him in the street last month, slashed his arms with razor blades and bound his hands behind his back. Photos of him when he was discovered later were widely distributed on social media.

A statement on the official BNA news agency last Friday said prosecutors concluded after a medical examination of Singace that he had inflicted the razor wounds himself, noting previous detentions for taking part in clashes with police.

"This is not the first time that prosecutors have filed charges of reporting a crime that did not happen or giving incorrect information," the report said.

The Gulf Arab state, where the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family dominates political and economic life, has been in turmoil since it crushed a pro-democracy uprising last year, with daily protests in Shi'ite areas that often end in violence.

The government accused Shi'ites, who are the majority in Bahrain, of leading the revolt with sectarian motives and backing from Shi'ite Gulf neighbor Iran. Shi'ites say they face political and economic marginalization, which the state denies.

A U.N. rights body said last week it is concerned that police could be using excessive force, including tear gas that activists say has caused many of over 30 deaths since June.

The government disputes the causes of those deaths and says police are using restraint in the face of petrol bomb attacks.

Prosecutors said Singace did not appear to be traumatized and questioned his claim to have tried to open the garage door with tied hands before fainting, his lawyer told Reuters. Senior paramedic Ibrahim Demestani, who checked Singace after he was found, said he appeared drowsy and depressed.

Prosecution officials were not available for comment.

The case has set a worrying precedent after Bahrain weathered international criticism of its handling of the revolt, said Brian Dooley of U.S.-based group Human Rights First.

"It's discouraging that when someone complains about police treatment the reflexive response is to blame them," he said. "It's fine to have a new complaints procedure and a police code of conduct but until people feel their complaints will be taken seriously and investigated, the reforms mean nothing."

Bahrain has been under pressure to reform policing, judicial process, education, media and other areas after a commission of international legal experts said in November that there had been widespread abuse during a period of martial law last year.

Last week Bahrain said it had made headway on many of the commission's recommendations, including installation of video cameras in police stations, but said others would take time.

As part of those reforms, it has opened the door for Bahrainis to file claims for compensation for abuse suffered, and police say the public are free to report any post-martial law violations to the authorities for investigation.

Sitting on a ground mattress in his modest home in Sanabis, Singace said he never expected much from the complaint: "They kept repeating the questions again and again so that I would change my words."

(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)