A human rights organisation has accused Bahrain’s security forces of involvement in the deaths of three men, including Mustafa Hamdan who died in March after being shot by masked men during a protest.
The Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has highlighted the deaths of Hamdan, Salah Abbas and Ali Abdulghani ahead of the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend. The sporting event – the country’s biggest – should be cancelled, BIRD says.
BIRD has also condemned the UK Government for assisting a regime at the centre of murder and torture allegations, by having spent millions of pounds on training its controversial police force.
The Ferret reported in March that Hamdan, 18, had been seriously injured when men – alleged to be from Bahrain’s internal security force – opened fire on people attending a sit-in protest in Duraz.
Hamdan was shot during the attack on 26th January 2017 and remained in a critical condition in hospital until he died on 24th March.
Human rights campaigners blamed the attack on the nation’s security forces although there has been no independent confirmation of their involvement.
BIRD said it has been investigating the shooting and alleges that Hamdan was taken first to Bahrain International Hospital but denied medical help.
BIRD said: “Hamdan was denied the immediate emergency medical care he needed to survive. A resident of Duraz rushed Hamdan to the Bahrain International Hospital. The hospital refused to admit him without a Ministry of Interior (MOI) official present.
“Sources in the medical field report that the authorities require an MOI official to be present when patients present with injuries that could be sustained during a protest.
“When the people with Hamdan requested an ambulance take him to the public Salmaniya Medical Complex, this too was refused.
“Hamdan’s brother arrived and took him to Salmaniya, where 35 members of the security forces and Hamdan’s mother were waiting for them.”
BIRD alleges that plainclothes security forces wearing balaclavas shot Hamdan in the back of the head at a protest with live ammunition. It added that it has spoken to a witness who was metres away from Hamdan when he was shot.
The witness told BIRD that Hamdan was shot by plain-clothed officers from approximately fifty meters. He said there was a large police presence that night, including approximately nine civilian cars with plainclothes officers armed with shotguns loaded with birdshot pellet, pistols and live-ammunition rifles.
The other two deaths cited by BIRD are those of Salah Abbas, 36, who was discovered dead on the morning of 21 April 2012, the day before the Bahrain Grand Prix that year (20-22 April).
In 2013, a police officer was acquitted of Abbas’s killing but no-one else has been investigated or prosecuted, according to BIRD.
The other death raised was that of Ali Abdulghani Ashoor Mohamed Hasan Al-Koofi, 17, who was injured in Shahrakan on 31 March 2016.
He died on 4 April 2016, days after allegedly being hit by a police vehicle twice and falling from a building. He died from his injuries at the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital (BDF).
According to witnesses, security forces hit him twice with their car as they attempted to arrest him. BIRD said no-one has been held accountable for Ali Abdulghani’s death.
Formula 1 should not forget their responsibility to ensure the safety of the people of the host country. If Formula 1 cannot do that, then the Grand Prix should not go to Bahrain. Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said: “Arbitrary arrests always increase when the race is held, and many of those arrested are then tortured and unfairly prosecuted.
“Then there is Ali Abdulghani, who was fatally injured during arrest a mere three miles from the circuit. Formula 1 should not forget their responsibility to ensure the safety of the people of the host country. If Formula 1 cannot do that, then the Grand Prix should not go to Bahrain. ”
Regarding the UK’s support for Bahrain, he said: “The UK has spent millions training and assisting the violent Bahraini police and sham “accountability” institutions, and the result has been the fostering of a culture of impunity in an increasingly violent police force.
“UK assistance is going to the regime that has not only murdered Mustafa Hamdan and failed to investigate his death, but has not even acknowledged its crime.
“Post-Brexit, the British government is desperate to make allies with the repressive Gulf states, going so far as to be complicit in covering up abuses and shielding their criminal acts from UN probes.
“What Bahrain need is a UN investigation into this tragic killing, not the whitewashing of the UK government.”
Other human rights groups also called for this weekend’s Grand Prix to be cancelled.
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director, ADHRB, said: “Two years after reaching an agreement with F1 we have serious doubts whether they are really taking their human rights policies seriously.
“Independent reports of human rights violations and the adverse effects of the race on the overall human rights conditions have been shared with the F1 administration, yet we’ve seen no serious actions taken, not even the implementation of their own human rights policy.
He continued: “This is deeply troubling because Bahrain’s oppressive regime uses the Grand Prix as a PR tool to whitewash its human rights abuses.”
Zainab Al-Khawaja, a Bahraini activist forced into exile in 2016 and who has protested against the Grand Prix in previous years, said: “Bahrain advertises the Grand Prix by inviting people to come enjoy ‘the sun, sand and sea’.
“People who go to watch the Grand Prix should remember that there are thousands of Bahrainis are unfairly kept in prison who also love the sun, sand and sea, but who go days and months without ever seeing them.”
Bahrain’s biggest sporting event is watched by a worldwide audience of millions. The event has been held since 2004, with the exception of 2011 when violent civil unrest forced its cancellation.
In a letter to Formula One chairman Chase Carey and the two managing directors Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn, human rights groups including BIRD said: “We call on you to suspend this year’s race in view of the alarming situation in the country.”
The letter, also addressed to the chief executive of F1 sponsor Heineken, was sent by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, BIRD, Article 19 and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
In reply, Bahrain’s Embassy in London issued a lengthy statement to The Ferret which can be read in full at the end of this report. In summary it said: “It is important to strongly reiterate the Kingdom of Bahrain’s position and commitment to human rights and personal liberties and also its firm position against any act that infringes upon them.
“This commitment is manifested in our constitution, our laws, and our independent oversight bodies.”
In reply to BIRD’s criticism of the UK, a spokesman for the FCO said: “The UK works closely with Bahrain in a number of areas, including their reform agenda and we see our support as the most constructive way to achieve long-lasting and sustainable reform in Bahrain.
“While it will take time to see the full results of much of this work, the UK is having a positive and direct impact on areas of concern. Only by working with Bahrain are we able to bring about the changes we would like to see in the country. We continue to raise concerns about human rights with the Bahraini authorities both in private and in public.”
Formula One is now owned by U.S.-based Liberty Media, which took over the sport in January and ousted Bernie Ecclestone as commercial supremo.
At time of writing Liberty Media had not replied to our request for a comment.
There are further details on the above three deaths in the documents below, as provided by BIRD.