Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain are suffering from the long-term effects of torture and other alleged violations experienced during their arrest, interrogation and imprisonment, according to a new report.
The non-profit Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) said on Monday it had found through interviews and medical reports that many victims were unable to resume a normal life due to “invisible wounds” that persist years after the alleged mistreatment.
Its report (PDF) quoted one of the victims as saying that he was arrested while taking a shower and dragged naked on the street, where he was beaten.
He developed anger and irritability and a deep-seated fear of being rearrested or of something happening to his family members. Fear of reprisal due to threats from security forces later prevented him from attending therapy.
A second victim told the organisation she was forced to strip naked during an interrogation and sexually assaulted, whipped, insulted, and threatened with rape and the murder of her children.
After the event, she developed difficulties in focusing or making decisions, slept long hours, experienced self-hatred and contemplated suicide.
According to ADHRB, mental health services are unavailable in prison, where Bahraini authorities practise “extreme forms of medical negligence”, denying prisoners their basic rights.
The mistreatment is not acknowledged by authorities, even when a detainee is taken to a psychiatric hospital, the report said.
The psychological effect of torture inevitably spills into the social life of the victims as the way they interact with their surroundings is largely defined by their mental health. Men were less likely to seek support out of a desire to appear “strong” and “tough”, ADHRB said, while female survivors of sexual assault and rape struggled to resume social and intimate relationships.
The organisation has called for greater transparency and for an impartial investigation into the allegations of torture. It also argued Bahrain should pay reparations for victims of torture “as well as psychological support programs for the families of victims in order to raise awareness and empower them to create a safe environment for the victims”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), among other international organisations, has criticised Bahrain, a majority Shia country ruled by a Sunni monarchy, for spending the past decade “cracking down on peaceful opposition”.
Last year, HRW said the government was using “political isolation laws” and a series of other tactics to keep the opposition out of public office and other aspects of public life.
The government’s large-scale crackdown has intensified since the peaceful 2011 pro-democracy and anti-government uprising. Since 2017, Bahraini authorities have banned independent media organisations in the country and dissolved all significant opposition groups.
There was no immediate comment by the Bahraini government on the ADHRB report. It has previously rejected allegations of human rights violations and denied discriminating against its Shia citizens.