12 january 2012 IAA
Five police officers charged in the death of Bahraini blogger Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri appeared in court yesterday, including the two officers charged with beating that lead to death and the other three officers charged with failure to report a crime to the appropriate authorities. This comes less than week after the Cabinet approved two key laws to implement its zero tolerance policy towards torture as part of its commitment to fully implement the recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
The officers denied their guilt and involvement in the death of Al-Ashiri at yesterday’s trial, which will reconvene on 30 January (2012) in order for the defendants to arrange legal representatives. Al-Ashiri was arrested on April 2 of last year and died a week later while in custody. Yesterday’s trial follows a statement on 29 December (2011) made by Nawaf Abdullah Hamza, Chief of Public Prosecution, that certain cases related to torture and ill-treatment of prisoners would be transferred from the usual Ministry of Interior courts to the Higher Criminal Courts, in line with the latter court’s expertise.
Less than a week ago (08 January) the Cabinet approved two amendments to the Bahraini Penal Code to protect those who raise claims of torture or other forms of inhumane treatment, and to ensure that such complaints are swiftly and appropriately investigated and prosecuted by the Attorney-General rather than the police. This was in addition to previous legislation in October of 2011 that brings the law into full compliance with international human rights standards. Under those earlier amendments to the Penal Code, the crime of torture is no longer limited to just the act of inflicting severe pain to extract a confession, but rather criminalizes all acts of torture. The amendments also provided that there is no time-limit to investigating and prosecuting persons for torture, as well as ensuring that the crime of torture carries severe penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offence.
To ensure that these laws are effective in their aims, the Attorney-General has created three new departments within his office: General Department of Physical Evidence will be functionally independent from the Attorney General’s office and will consist of forensic experts, doctors and staff to ensure that all complaints and evidence are fully evaluated using the most modern methods.
The Human Rights Bureau will report to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and investigate all such complaints to ensure that the prosecuting attorney is acting swiftly and effectively. The specialized Prosecution Office will monitor the integrity of judicial proceedings. Until these new departments are fully-functioning, all pending prosecutions concerning torture and mistreatment of civilians have been transferred to the Attorney-General’s office, which is currently pursuing 107 cases of deaths, torture and mistreatment against 48 security officers.