The Associated PressBahraini citizen Ebrahim Sarhan speaks during a press conference by SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, a non-governmental organization that follows human rights abuses in the Middle East, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 25, 2019. SALAM released a 30-page report on sexual torture in Bahrain Thursday, that said such acts in the kingdom’s jails are "widespread" and "systematic." (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A Bahraini rights group said Thursday that sexual abuse and torture have been widespread and systematic in jails in the Gulf island nation during a yearslong crackdown.
The SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights group released a 30-page report documenting abuses it says “use the most intimate and personal parts of a person in order to inflict suffering.”
The report was released in Beirut because the group is barred in Bahrain .
A Bahraini government spokesperson who asked not to be identified, said in an email that “the Government of Bahrain takes allegations of human rights violations very seriously. Bahrain has a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind and treats such allegations with the utmost seriousness.
“The Kingdom’s independent oversight institutions such as the Ombudsman and Special Investigation Unit will investigate any allegation of mistreatment thoroughly and transparently,” the spokesperson added.
The spokesperson said Bahrain’s independent Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Committee “monitors prisoners’ and detainees’ status and the treatment they receive to ensure that they are not subjected to torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment.” The spokesperson said “the committee exercises its functions freely, impartially, transparently and in a completely independent manner.”
At the release in Beirut, Bahraini citizen Ebrahim Sarhan recounted the torture he was subjected to in 2017, describing how he was stripped naked in front of other inmates as officials threatened to “bring in a bottle” — a veiled threat of sodomy.
Sarhan, also a legal adviser to SALAM, said sexual torture has been ongoing since 2011 and there are no exact figures of how many men and women have been subjected to torture. However, the numbers are in the dozens, he said.
Bahrain, which has been conducting a yearslong crackdown on dissent, has dismissed such allegations in the past.
Sima Watling, Amnesty International Gulf researcher, said sexual torture usually takes place during interrogation in Bahrain and many former detainees refuse to speak about it to avoid being “stigmatized by one’s own family and community.”
“Whereas it is difficult for Amnesty International to state that sexual assault of detainees is systematic, it is certain that this practice has taken place and continues to take place and we consider it to be an act of torture,” she said.