Arab News

Opposing Repressive Regimes in the Middle East Is a Death Sentence

Death, be it by medical malfeasance or by execution, is a powerful weapon in the hands of authoritarian regimes.
Bill Law, Mohammed Ramadhan Bahrain, Husain Moosa Bahrain, Bahrain human rights, Iran protesters to be executed, Saudi Arabia executions 2019, Egypt human rights, Egypt under Sisi, Egypt executions under Sisi, Mohammed Monir death Egypt

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July 22, 2020 07:01 EDT

The ruling by Bahrain’s top judicial body, the court of cassation, on July 13 to uphold the death sentences of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa has been decried by human rights organizations, condemned in the UK House of Lords and questioned in the British Parliament. Whether any of that will save the men from execution is debatable.

The men were convicted and sentenced to death in 2014 for the killing of a policeman. That conviction was overturned when evidence emerged that they had been tortured into giving false confessions. Despite that decision, the death penalty was reinstated and subsequently confirmed by the court of cassation. An official in the public prosecutor’s office defended the court’s latest ruling while denying the accusations of torture, claiming that medical reports showed that the confessions were obtained “in full consciousness and voluntarily, without any physical or verbal coercion.”

In Bahrain, Justice Is Still a Far-Off Goal


That confounds the earlier court decision to throw out the convictions, which was based on an investigation undertaken by the Bahraini government’s own Special Investigation Unit that showed the men had been tortured. However, in the contorted reality of the kingdom’s politicized judicial system, the court of cassation decided that the convictions were not based on evidence extracted under torture but rather on other evidence.

“Close and Important Relationship”

Amnesty International denounced the latest verdict, saying: “The two men were taken to the Criminal Investigations Department where they were tortured during interrogation. Mohamed Ramadhan refused to sign a ‘confession’, though he was subjected to beating and electrocution. Hussain Ali Moosa said he was coerced to ‘confess’ and incriminate Mohamed Ramadhan after being suspended by the limbs and beaten for several days.”

Moosa has said that, after his genitalia were repeatedly beaten, he was told that if he signed a confession implicating Ramadhan his sentence would be commuted to life: “They were kicking me on my reproductive organs, and would hit me repeatedly in the same place until I couldn’t speak from the pain. I decided to tell them what they wanted.” His repudiation of the confession was ignored by the courts.

In UK Parliament, four days prior to the court of cassation ruling, the Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley had asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for a statement on whether he would use what he called “the UK’s constructive dialogue” with Bahrain to publicly raise the cases of the men. In reply, the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly spoke of a “close and important relationship” with an “ongoing, open and genuine dialogue” with Bahrain. The minister averred that “this dynamic” enabled the UK to raise human rights concerns, adding “the cases of Mr Moosa and Mr Ramadhan had been, and would continue to be, raised in conversations with officials in Bahrain.”

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Earlier this month, it was revealed that another heavily politicized judiciary, this time in Iran, had upheld the death sentences of three young Iranian protesters who had been arrested in November of last year during countrywide protests that saw hundreds killed by security forces. Though moving swiftly to convict the men and sentence them to death, the authorities have done virtually nothing about investigating the killings carried out by the state in suppressing the protests. Amongst media highlighting their case is the Saudi news site Al Arabiya. It noted that a hashtag trending in Iran, “#do not execute,” has had over 2 million tweets. On July 19, Iran halted the executions, according to one of the lawyers for the accused.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia executed a record 184 people, including six women, many for drug-related offenses. Some were crucified after being beheaded. At least one was a minor. In April, the kingdom announced it would no longer execute juveniles; rather it would sentence them to a maximum of 10 years in a juvenile detention center. It is unclear if the decree will save the life of Ali al-Nimr, who was 17 when arrested and 19 when sentenced to death. His uncle Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia Muslim cleric and critic of the ruling family, was beheaded in 2016.

State-Sanctioned Arbitrary Killing

In Egypt, more than 2,000 people have been sentenced to death since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2013, with nearly 200 executed. At least 10 children have been sentenced to hang. In the country’s prison system, there is another kind of death — by deliberate medical neglect, as was the case with the country’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi. He was repeatedly denied medication for his diabetes and collapsed and died in a Cairo court on June 17, 2019.

On November 8 last year, a panel of UN experts led by Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded that Morsi’s death “after enduring those conditions could amount to a State-sanctioned arbitrary killing”. The case shed light on the horrific conditions in Egypt’s overcrowded and brutal prison system, a situation that has been severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 13, prominent Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir died from COVID-19. He had been arrested and held in pre-trial detention for criticizing, on the Al Jazeera news network, the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. The charge against him was broadcasting false news. The 65-year-old suffered from heart disease and diabetes, and was therefore at high risk of contracting the disease. After falling ill Monir was released to hospital a week before he died. An influential critical voice was silenced. Surely that was the intention — death, be it by medical malfeasance or by execution, is a powerful weapon in the hands of authoritarian regimes.

*[This article was originally published by Arab Digest.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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