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 2010.

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.