|Hasan Moosa Shafaei
Debate over Judicial Decision
on the Ma’ameer Case
Hasan Moosa Shafaei
More than a year has passed since the death of Sheikh Mohammed
Riyad, an Asian worker who was attacked with Molotov cocktail by
a group of youths during riots in the village of Al Ma’meer on 7
March 2009. The assault resulted in him sustaining severe burns,
which ultimately caused his death.
On 5 July 2010, the High Criminal Court found seven of the ten
persons accused in this case guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
The lawyers of those convicted appealed against the decision and
the Supreme Court of Appeal will consider the appeal on 26 September
The Court based its verdict on the confessions of the accused
and the testimonies of two officers. Crime scene and post-mortem
reports were also used to prove that the victim’s death was due
to the burns caused by the fire. In addition to this, the verdict
was delivered under the Penal Code and Combating Terrorism Act of
2006. The Chief of the Defence Counsel, Lawyer Mohammed Al Tajir,
believes that the Terrorism Law has increased the punishment to
life imprisonment. The punishment would not exceed 7 years if the
Penal Code alone was applied, according to the lawyer.
As expected, the verdict triggered a strong reaction. For instance,
as soon as the President of the Court Sheikh Mohammed bin Ali Al
Khalifa announced the verdict, riots began, according to the police.
The families of the accused objected to the sentences and their
mothers were in tears. Some reports stated that the police had violated
the rights of some of the supporters of the accused.
During the same day, a protest in front of the Court building
and the Ministry of Justice turned into riots and confrontations
with the police. On the night of the same day, illegal demonstrations,
riots, clashes and burning of tyres and rubbish bins took place
in the villages of Albilad Al Qadeem, Sitra, Ma’ameer, Doraz, Sanabis
and Bani Jamra. The police was forced to interfere in order to disperse
the crowd and re-open the roads.
On 7, 10, 11 and 12 July 2010, more protests, demonstrations
and riots took place in several villages on daily base, especially
in the village of Al Ma’meer, which is the home town of most of
the accused and the place where the incident originally took place.
The lawyers of the accused objected to the sentences especially
with regards to the refusal of the torture allegations and the fact
that the accused were not provided with lawyers from the very beginning.
The lawyers criticised the investigation procedures because of the
absence of lawyers during interrogations. In reply to this, the
Court said that the ‘accused did not request the presence of lawyers’.
Lawyer Al Tajir said that some of the accused were beaten and that
the defence file includes pictures to prove this. He pointed out
that he requested from the Public Prosecutor, during the first hearing,
to medically examine the detainees but that did not take place,
according to him.
On the day of the verdict, the Court responded to the torture
allegations by saying that ‘they are untrue and there is no evidence
to prove that they were tortured, especially as they were presented
to a forensic doctor on the first day of their arrest. The forensic
doctor concluded that the marks on the body of the first accused
were self-inflicted and a result of his attempt to run away during
his arrest. As for the marks on the second accused, they were sustained
when he also resisted the police. The injuries of the fourth and
fifth detainees were again self-inflicted. The marks on the chest
of the fifth detainee were hardly visible and could be as result
of a skin disease. The sixth detainee’s right toe was inflamed due
to hitting a hard surface. As for the seventh detainee it is difficult
to determine the nature and cause of the injury’. In addition to
this, the Court stated that ‘the testimonies of the defence witnesses
regarding the torture allegations are unreliable. Moreover, the
Court has the authority to admit confessions that are given at any
point during the course of the investigation, even if retracted
later on, as evidence against the accused, or any other person,
if they are deemed to be reliable’.
The lawyers rejected the Court’s response and Tajir stated that
he will challenge the verdict especially with regards to the Court’s
dismissal of torture allegations. He added that ‘it is not possible
to justify the existence of marks on an accused by saying that it
is a skin disease or a result of his attempt to run away’.
|سيارة الضحية التي هوجمت بالقنابل الحارقة
On 10 July 2010, the Secretary-General of the Bahrain Human Rights
Society, Abdula Al-Drazi described the verdict in the Al-Ma’meer
Case as politically motivated decision, which aimed at intimidating
the citizens. On 16 July 2010, the opposing political societies,
including Al Wifaq Society, issued a joint statement in which they
indirectly condemned the violence of the security forces and street
violence and incitement. It also stressed the importance of adopting
a peaceful approach to political action, avoiding violence and what
might hinder national unity and civil peace.
Despite the fact that the statement expressed its deep respect
for the judiciary in promoting truth, freedom and the law, it doubted
that just and fair trials can be guaranteed. Thus, during an open
and licensed assembly on 10 July 2010, the societies demanded the
release of the detainees.
What’s Criminal? What’s Political?
|Protest against the ruling
The Al- Ma’meer case, or similarly the Karazacan case, would
not have triggered this much controversy in the legal and political
field, if it hadn’t been for the fact that both cases impact on
politics. On one hand, the Judiciary insisted on dealing with the
Ma’ameer incident as a criminal case i.e. (individuals attacking
a car assuming that it belongs to the police and using bombs with
the intention of causing harm). On the other hand, advocates of
violence from the opposition believe that the case is political
and represents ‘a Government’s attempt to suppress freedom of expression
by accusing individuals who were expressing themselves peacefully
of murder’- which is not the case. There is a moderate third party
as in the statement of the political societies. Their position takes
into consideration their political interests and that is why they
had to condemn advocates of violence as this harms society at large
and does not help in achieving political goals. But they also had
to condemn the verdict and describe it as ‘political and unjust’.
It is necessary to highlight the following:
Firstly: what occurred in the Al-Ma’meer and Karazcan cases is
the murder of two victims as a result of irrational violence involving
the use of bombs with the intention of causing harm. This act is
a crime that cannot be justified as a peaceful form of expression.
This is something that all parties have agreed upon including the
Government, opposition and civil society organisations.
Secondly: the case has two clear sides: criminal and political
dimensions. Therefore, it is not possible to approach this case
from a criminal perspective alone or merely a political one. For
the incident occurred in the context of riots and politicised violence
backed by political instigators. Also, the purpose behind riots
and vandalism is completely political. In addition to this, those
directly involved in violence are perceived politically-motivated.
Also, the media coverage of the incident, as well as society, believe
that rioting is political and rioters are a tool in politics. In
fact, even the backgrounds of the defending lawyers are political.
For some of them are not only members, but also leaders in political
opposition parties. Therefore, it is not possible to simplify the
Al-Ma’ameer case as being a criminal case only.
However, this does not justify the crime and it is not possible
to acquit the criminals on the basis that it is a political case.
There is concern that the number of innocent victims will increase
if such criminals are not punished. Even if the crime can be described
as political crime, the lives of people cannot be risked as the
very philosophy behind punishment is protecting society, achieving
justice and deterrence. Those who demand that the accused be released
immediately cannot guarantee that such acts will not occur again
by politically incited youths. Perhaps, if not for the legal pursuit
of the Ma’ameer and Karazcan perpetrators, the number of Molotov
victims would be much higher.
Thirdly: even if there was any shortcoming in any aspect of the
trial such as a lack of transparency in the investigation resulting
in forced confessions or torture or preventing lawyers from attending
investigations, the essential point is that a murder took place
and should not be dealt with leniently whether it is described as
criminal or political. Also, the accused have the right to a fair
trial in all stages of the legal and judicial process.