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The Independent Ombudsman reveals the facts regarding allegations raised in an Amnesty International report

Following the independent Ombudsman’s Office statement issued on March 11, 2021, regarding the announcement of an investigation carried out into the allegations raised in Amnesty International’s letter published on 3 March 2021, and based on the independent Ombudsman Office’s statement that it is investigating these allegations according to "its professional mechanism and the independent procedures, such as gathering information and interviewing the complainants or their representatives; in addition to recording the statements of officials in the relevant authorities and witnesses, in addition to examining any other trustworthy evidences such as (CCTV)  recordings to reach results that reflect the methodology followed by the independent Ombudsman Office, which is a legal methodology based on facts”.

The Independent Ombudsman Office would like to clarify the following to the public and the individuals mentioned in Amnesty International’s statement, the organization itself, as well as the relevant stakeholders:

First, the Independent Ombudsman Office has repeatedly, in many occasions since its establishment in 2013 and until now, affirmed its sincere desire to constructively communicate with human rights organizations, especially observations regarding allegations of serious incidents, or allegations of human rights violation, indicating that it follows a mechanism that supports human rights organizations to submit complaints on behalf of individuals, who claim they have been subjected to unlawful acts. The Independent Ombudsman Office, previously, contacted these organizations to provide them with the evidence they have that supports the allegations regarding the cases they pursue, as well as to identify witnesses to testify, which helps the Office’s investigators to obtain evidence related to complaints and allegations during their investigation.

Second, the Independent Ombudsman Office did not receive any complaint from the individuals mentioned in Amnesty International’s statement or from their families or even from the organization itself, until the organization published its statement on March 3, 2021. The aforementioned statement contained allegations that date back to February 2020, more than a year ago, in spite of the Independent Ombudsman Office is affording many ways for the public to submit their complaints, even in these exceptional circumstances that the world has lived through most of the past year until now due to the pandemic. The Independent Ombudsman Office wished those individuals to submit their complaints to it and to  enable it to authenticate their claims early and take the appropriate actions.

Third, the organization mentioned, in its reports, that one of the accused H.A. in which it stated that he was interrogated twice at Criminal Investigation Department: the first was in February 2020 and alleged that he was slapped, and the second was in November 2020. The Independent Ombudsman Office investigated these allegations in accordance with its normal practice, in this context, the Independent Ombudsman Office tried to examine the CCTV recordings to investigate the alleged incident which happened in the first time in February 2020, however, these recordings are no longer available due to the passage of the  auto-save of the CCTV recording, as the storage period is 4 months, which complies with international standards followed by police agencies and institutions worldwide. This indicates the reluctance or indifference of the individuals concerned and his family to submit any complaint to the independent Ombudsman Office during that time which led to the loss of important evidence that could have determined the validity of the allegations.

Nevertheless, the Independent Ombudsman Office, during the last period, has tried to contact the abovementioned accused and contacted his family more than once to give him the opportunity and hear his complaint and statement regarding the allegations and to provide him with fairness and justice. The Independent Ombudsman Office was very flexible in responding to the timings which were suggested by the accused’s family to attend and respected his wish to have a lawyer accompanying him. However, he did not attend nor did he provide any excuse until the date of this statement. The Independent Ombudsman Office also obtained and examined the CCTV recordings on the date of 30 November 2020 which was the second time where the accused attend to the mentioned police department. The aforementioned recordings did not demonstrate any assault on the accused during his stay at the place until his departure. Furthermore, he was not subjected to detention since the date of committing the crime for which he was convicted (February 14, 2020) until the Public Prosecution's decision was issued to temporarily detain him on 2 December 2020.

Fourth, the two accused F.H. and M.J. were interviewed at the Independent Ombudsman Office after the judgement was issued on March 11, 2021,.  In this interview with the Independent Ombudsman  investigator, they stated that they were summoned on February 10, 2021, before the Criminal Investigation Department, to notify them of the trial date and to sign an attendance form. In the aforementioned date, the two accused did not undergo any investigation and left the same day with their family. The next day, they both were in the Criminal Investigation Department to have their fingerprints taken after the Court's decision to temporarily detain them, and then they were transferred on the same day to the detention center.

Fifth, the Independent Ombudsman Office has verified the availability of health care for the accused S.H. referred to in the statement of Amnesty International during his pretrial detention, which was for one month. The Independent Ombudsman Office also examined the medical reports during his detention, medicine prescribed and given to him. In addition, it verified that the conditions in pretrial detention did not negatively affect his health condition, or the nature and level of diseases he was suffering from before entering the place. The Independent Ombudsman Office tried more than once to communicate by phone with the aforementioned person or any of his family members, but it did not receive any responses.

In conclusion:

The defendants whom Amnesty International spoke about - with the exception of one defendant whose imprisonment decision was issued by the Public Prosecution Service in November 2020 - were in their homes and between their relatives and families since the time of the committing of the crime in February 2020, until the Court's decision to arrest them was issued in its session held on February 11, 2021; around a whole year. The defendants came from their homes accompanied by their relatives and their lawyers to the aforementioned session, except for one defendant who did not have a lawyer present with him in which the Court, through the Ministry of Justice, appointed a lawyer for him. The abovementioned confirms that what the organization highlighted in its statement  that “the treatment of all four children should be done in a manner consistent with their interests as children and ensuring that detention is used only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time, and that alternatives to custody are prioritized throughout the procedures,” is in fact completely identical to the steps taken by the relevant authorities, whether in the security administration, the public prosecution or the criminal court. All these procedures were taken before the release of Amnesty International’s letter, and it is being taken also after. These procedures were taken based on the advanced methodology followed in Bahrain which highlights the importance of respecting human rights before achieving other security considerations. Furthermore, the Fourth High Criminal Court has clearly demonstrated such methodology in its judgement on March 11, 2021, against those defendants, who were between the ages of 16 to 17 at the time of committing the crime of burning tires and illegal assembly, with imprisonment for only 6 months, where the Court ordered the replacement of the imprisonment sentence with alternative sentencing and integrating these defendants into the rehabilitation programs. The Court also confirmed that this judgement comes with the objective of the new Corrective Justice Law regarding this age group.

According to the mentioned above, The Independent Ombudsman Office affirms that its methodology is based on precise and specific standards that are not limited to what is raised in the media or from a human rights perspective, but it always seeks to conduct professional investigations, and it continues to consider the statements submitted to it to verify the validity of any  other allegations that were not previously mentioned in order to take action on them.

It also still welcomes cooperation with Amnesty International and any other organization in its fields of work in pursuit of remedies and justice, and urges this organization, the persons mentioned in its mission, and all other members of the public to benefit from the services it provides through the many means and methods that have been made.  Dedicating it to receive complaints and requests for assistance, because this is at the core of the secretariat's duty and mission, its professional work and its role in promoting respect for human rights principles.