Prison in Bahrain: A Tale of Torture

Daih, Bahrain. 28th February 2014 -- In front of the mourning rally banners with Jaafar Aldurazi's picture. -- Bahraini security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades on protesters after funeral of Jaafar Aldurazi. who died in custody allegedly due to medical neglect and torture in prison. Copyright: Demotix

Daih, Bahrain. 28th February 2014 — In front of the mourning rally banners with Jaafar Aldurazi's picture. — Bahraini security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades on protesters after funeral of Jaafar Aldurazi. who died in custody allegedly due to medical neglect and torture in prison. Copyright: Demotix

He was shouting as he was being beaten. Prisoners could hear his screams. The autopsy showed a disfigured face, a fractured skull, broken ribs, and an exploded kidney. Meet Hasan Alshaikh, 36 years old, who died as a result of torture in a prison in Bahrain. He had served more than half his sentence.

On November 6, 2014 the Bahrain Ministry of Interior tweeted that a prisoner had died in prison:

For more specification it was stated that it was not a natural death

Hasan Alshaikh joins a list of at least five other prisoners who have died due to torture in Bahrain since 2011, and I share with him something that is unfortunately common in my country—we were both victims of torture.

On the night of July 30, 2013, I went to sleep thinking of trivial things such as what I would do on the weekend, and whether I should continue with my piano lessons. Little did I know that such decisions would soon be out of my hands.

At dawn on July 31, I was grabbed from my bed and taken to the Central Intelligence directorate (CID), where I was tortured for five days.

Having worked with human rights organizations for a few years I had read many testimonies regarding torture in Bahrain, so I was more prepared than most others for what would come. Not that it made much difference, but at least it helped me keep some degree of sanity. During the days I was kept in detention I was handcuffed and blindfolded but I still had the knowledge and my instinct was to keep doing what I was trained to do.

I started collecting information. I was kept in a makeshift cell about six-by-six. The structure of the room suggested that it has recently been subdivided. The plywood walls didn't reach the ceiling. There weren’t a large number of rooms, but they tried to give you the illusion that the place was larger than it was by walking you in circles around the place.

I started doing things like counting the number of doors I heard being shut when the guards did their routine search to make sure nobody was sleeping or sitting down (we were forced to remain standing the whole time). This indicated that there weren't many rooms in the place. This was significant, because it meant any building could be turned into a torture chamber and that the traditional mechanisms to keep track of detention facilities were ineffective.

Remaining handcuffed with your hands behind your back for a long period drains your strength. After a while your circulation stops and your limbs become numb. We were allowed to go to the bathroom once every shift, so we would take the opportunity even if we weren't in need of the toilet, as it was the only chance to have our handcuffs removed.

I learned to slide my hands beneath my feet (our hands are handcuffed behind our backs)  and relax the blindfold a bit, so when I was taken to the bathroom I was able to examine the place. I started noticing how orders were passed between the officers and guards. From speaking to the inmates I was with later on and getting their testimonies, I learned that if you had a green Post-it on your door you were not allowed to sit or sleep; a yellow Post-it meant you were allowed to sleep at night; no Post-it on the door of your cell meant you were allowed to sit. This was significant because it showed that there was a hierarchy and a system in place. These weren’t unilateral decisions.

During my torture sessions I was told what I should say to the public prosecutor. They told me the questions I would be asked and the answers I should give. The fact that I was asked exactly the same questions by the public prosecutor as my torturers said, convinced me that the level of co-ordination we used to suspect did in fact exist in Bahrain.

I was warned that if I complained to the public prosecutor about being tortured I would be tortured even more. Had my lawyer not tweeted about it, I would have expected that to happen. Many other inmates had experienced this, as they were questioned by the public prosecutor without a lawyer present.

When I was later transferred to the detention centre, I met many who would recognize and trust me. A 16-year-old fellow detainee saw that I was allowed a notebook and looked at me with envy. As hard as a simple thing like a notebook was to come by in a place like that, I couldn't deprive him. I gave him the notebook and he surprised me when he started his own project, making and distributing a form to the inmates, asking them to write down their stories and describe how they were tortured. 

The “torture note”, as I used to call it, was more than words on paper—it was the manifestation of evil. It was agony reading those stories of people from so many different backgrounds, age groups and parts of the country. That notebook was the shame of my nation and proof of the structural failure of a country. It strengthened my conviction that torture in Bahrain is a matter that goes far beyond our imagination.

The death of a new inmate in prison was not a surprise. It was only a matter of time before someone proved too weak to withstand the practices of Bahrain's prisons, and add to that the lack of medical care, the deteriorating conditions in our overcrowded prisons and the tendency for violence to escalate.

The torture that led to the death of Hasan Alshaikh was committed by three members of the prison staff. Three, meaning it was a group decision: none of the three staff members thought it wrong to beat inmates, which points to a general environment of acceptance of torture. One of Hassan Alshaikh’s torturers was the lecturer in charge of rehabilitation of drug abusers. How was he selected for such a position is an indication of another structural failure in the system.

Eight other prison staff came forward to testify as witnesses to the torture and killing of Alshaikh. Why none of them came forward to stop the crime while it was happening is further evidence of the atmosphere of tolerance of torture. Other inmates could only sit and listen to him scream to death.

Hasan Alshaikh will not be the last victim of torture in Bahrain, especially not as long as western allies continue to praise the “reforms” made by the Bahraini government. The level of insult I feel every time I read comments about “reforms” from allies like the UK is far worse than the injuries I sustained in prison, and it's not making my frequent nightmares any better.

On behalf of Hasan and 80 other inmates whose stories I have read, I would like to ask you a favour: please tweet or write to Mr. Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary at Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and ask him kindly to stop insulting us.


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