(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”


Video: Rare Story From Inside China's Secret Detention System

The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.

The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.

Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.

“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”

The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.

China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.

“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.


Act 1 of the Hissène Habré Trial

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  


Hissène Habré Finally Facing Justice

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Pakistan is moving to make torture a criminal offense, an important step in stemming widespread abuses by the police.

A bill submitted to parliament this week by Senator Sherry Rehman – The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act 2019 – would make torture by police a criminal offense for the first time.

A Pakistani police officer monitors the area during a Shiite Muslim's Muharram procession in Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

© 2017 AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

While Pakistan’s constitution prohibits the use of torture for extracting evidence, domestic law currently does not actually criminalize torture. Pakistan is party to international treaties that prohibit the use of torture and other ill-treatment, notably the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In recent months, several incidents of torture and custodial death have spotlighted the pervasive culture of abuse. On September 1, Salahuddin Ayubi, arrested for theft, died in police custody. His family said he had a mental health condition. A forensic report confirmed that he had been severely beaten. In August, the Punjab anti-corruption department discovered a cell run by police officers in Lahore where suspects were kept in secret detention and tortured. The government has ordered inquiries into both incidents.

Human Rights Watch has documented the Pakistani police’s widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly during criminal investigations. Those from marginalized groups are at particular risk of abuse. Torture is typically used to obtain confessions and other information from suspects, or to extract bribes from those arbitrarily detained. Officials claim the police resort to physical force because they are not trained in sophisticated methods of investigation and forensic analysis.

In April, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairperson of the National Assembly’s committee on human rights, promised to introduce legislation to eliminate “the barbaric practice of torture.” On October 10, Dr. Shireen Mazari, the minister for human rights, acknowledged the need to put an end to the practice of torture and custodial deaths.

Pakistan needs to reform its police force to end abuse and protect detainees. This proposed law could be an important first step.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Presidency of the Federal Court of Cassation of Baghdad

© 2019 SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Image

(Beirut) – A close study of appeals court decisions in terrorism-related cases in Iraq shows that judges in close to two dozen cases in an 18-month period appeared to ignore torture allegations or to rely on uncorroborated confessions, Human Rights Watch said today. Some of the torture allegations had been substantiated by forensic medical exams, and some of the confessions were unsubstantiated by any other evidence and were apparently extracted by force, including by torture.

In each of these cases, the trial courts took the torture allegations seriously, found them credible, assessed the evidence, and acquitted the defendants. These cases show that gaps in Iraq’s criminal justice system extend to the highest level. Under international law, courts should never rely on evidence obtained by torture. Member states of the Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS (also known as the Islamic State), who are meeting on September 26, 2019 on the margins of the UN General Assembly session in New York to discuss accountability measures for ISIS crimes, should agree not to transfer ISIS suspects from Syria to Iraq until the Iraqi justice system can ensure that criminal prosecutions meet international fair trial standards and until the government imposes a death penalty moratorium.

“Our investigation into a large number of Iraq’s court rulings found what may be repeated miscarriages of justice in terrorism cases,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “How can Iraqi lawyers and counterterrorism judges stand by and watch this unfold?”

Human Rights Watch reviewed the appeals court case files in 27 decisions issued between September 2018 and March 2019 by the Federal Court of Cassation’s criminal committee. In 21 cases, the appeals court overruled the trial court’s acquittal and ordered retrials; in two cases, it upheld the acquittal; and in four cases, it upheld the trial court’s conviction but increased the sentences. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the outcome of the cases following retrial.

Of the 27 terrorism cases, 23 were prosecuted under Iraq’s counterterrorism law, three under the penal code, and one under the Weaponry Law No. 51 of 2017. The veracity of the court documents was confirmed by an independent Iraqi legal expert.

Criminal courts in Iraq are divided into courts for serious offenses, here referred to as “criminal courts,” and courts of minor offenses. The public prosecution, defendant, and complainant each have the right to appeal an acquittal, conviction, or sentence in a criminal court ruling. Appeals are heard by the criminal committee, consisting of a presiding judge and a minimum of four other judges, within the Federal Court of Cassation in Baghdad. The criminal committee automatically reviews all cases with a sentence of 25 years, life imprisonment, or death. The committee may uphold a decision or overrule it and return the case to the trial court for a retrial or a repeat judicial investigation.

In six cases, the defendants alleged at trials that investigators had tortured or otherwise coerced them into making a confession. The criminal committee overruled the acquittals and ordered retrials, relying on the recanted confession and mentioning evidence either not considered during the defendant’s trial or dismissed as unreliable. In two cases, the confession was the sole evidence. It was unclear from court documents whether trial judges had investigated those who had allegedly tortured or otherwise coerced the defendants, or if judicial investigators, police, or the public prosecution conducted criminal investigations into the allegations of torture and other crimes toward defendants who had made a complaint.

In two cases, the defendant submitted a forensic medical report that found signs he had been “subjected to external force,” yet the criminal committee ignored or dismissed the report. In one case, the criminal committee stated, “What the defendant’s medical report mentions does not affect the value of the evidence available in the case,” though the allegedly coerced confession was the only evidence presented at the trial.

While the issue of torture was not explicitly raised in seven cases, criminal courts in Anbar, Karkh, and Kirkuk acquitted defendants because no evidence was presented beyond their confessions, the case files showed. In each case, the criminal committee found that the disputed confession was sufficient evidence to proceed with the charges, and ordered a retrial.

These cases raise concern, particularly in light of comments made by an Iraqi judicial expert and two experts on Iraqi law and on terrorism cases. They all said that in their experience, when the criminal committee overruled an acquittal and ordered a retrial, it was sending a clear message that the trial court should change its ruling. They said that these retrials could not be seen as a neutral judicial order to reassess the facts of the case, but rather an implicit order to find the defendant guilty.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Iraq’s chief justice on June 10, 2019 with the findings. The High Judicial Council, which manages and supervises the federal judiciary’s affairs, responded on June 20, asking for the details of the cases reviewed, which Human Rights Watch provided on June 26. It also stated that, “independent experts were unable to properly assess the decisions taken by the distinguished judges at the Federal Court of Cassation because they lacked the appropriate expertise.” On July 18, it shared with Human Rights Watch an order from the chief justice to examine the cases Human Rights Watch shared but had not provided more information by the time of publication.

In line with international legal standards and Iraqi criminal procedures, Iraq’s High Judicial Council should issue guidelines obliging judges to investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and to transfer detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment, to protect them from retaliation. It should reiterate to judges that they are obliged to dismiss any evidence obtained by torture. Judicial authorities should investigate and determine who was responsible for any torture, punish abusive officers, and compensate the victim.

The High Judicial Council should immediately review all terrorism-related decisions issued by the criminal committee since the beginning of 2018, followed by consideration based on the result as to whether a full review since 2005 is necessary, and remedy any miscarriages of justice that it identifies.

The authorities should also ensure that there is a clear legal basis for detentions; that all detainees have access to legal counsel, including during interrogation; that they appear before a judge within 24 hours of their initial detention and at regular intervals thereafter, with the judge determining the legality and necessity of their continuing detention; and that detainees are moved to facilities accessible to government inspection, and with regular access by independent monitors and relatives.

The US-led coalition and other countries with nationals facing potential terrorism trials in Iraq should press the High Judicial Council to share the findings of any review it conducts into Iraq’s Federal Court of Cassation and ensure implementation of reforms to address the serious flaws raised in this report.

“This investigation shows that detainees in Iraq face a significant risk of unfair trial at every stage of the criminal justice process,” Fakih said. “The High Judicial Council needs to take a very close look at the terrorism-related decisions of the criminal committee.”


As of early 2018, Iraq authorities were holding an estimated 19,000 men and boys on charges of ISIS affiliation. Authorities have not responded to Human Rights Watch’s repeated requests to share updated statistics on those in custody. As of early 2019, according to an Iraqi security official, the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria were holding an estimated 20,000 Iraqis detained during fighting against ISIS, as well as over 2,000 non-Iraqis who are at risk of being transferred to Iraq for investigation and possible prosecution as ISIS members. At least 900 Iraqis with alleged links to ISIS have already been transferred from northeast Syria to Iraq in recent months.

Given the findings, and the risk of torture and unfair trials leading to the death penalty, neither the Syrian Kurdish forces nor any country should transfer detainees to Iraq for prosecution for terrorism or related crimes. Despite extensive credible reports of torture in detention, Iraqi judges routinely do not investigate these allegations.

Flaws in the Federal Court of Cassation

While the defendants’ arrest dates were not cited in most cases, one showed that the defendant had been arrested in March 2016 but only brought to trial in June 2017. The criminal committee overruled his acquittal in September 2018. While one case went from the trial to the appeals stage in just under six weeks, some cases took as long as a year or more. Two cases tried in 2018 related to crimes allegedly committed in 2006.

The right to a fair trial and the absolute prohibition of torture are set out in human rights treaties ratified by Iraq, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. Key guarantees include that courts should not consider any evidence obtained by torture; that no defendant should be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt; and that defendants should have adequate time to prepare their defense, be able to consider and challenge the evidence and witnesses used against them, and present their own evidence and witnesses.

In March 2019, the Interior Ministry endorsed new Standard Operating Procedures for criminal investigations. These include articles to strengthen the defense, including by ensuring defense lawyers’ access to detained clients, case files, and interview records. The Interior Ministry should ensure that investigators are fully trained on the procedures and that they are put into practice across all detention facilities and during all investigations.

Torture Allegations

In October 2017, a man went on trial at Anbar Criminal Court for ISIS affiliation in 2014 in Fallujah, according to his case file. The defendant recanted his confession, saying he had been tortured. Witnesses testified that he had no links to ISIS. The court acquitted him, but the criminal committee overruled the acquittal in October 2018, finding that the confession was credible, and ordered a retrial. It found that, “the accused has confessed during the investigation and in the presence of all legal guarantees of committing the crime. Therefore, the evidence against him as previously described is sufficient and convincing enough to convict and sentence him.” It said nothing about the torture allegation.

In November 2018, the Karkh branch of the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad acquitted a man accused of complicity in the murder of an Iraqi Security Forces officer and of injuring others in 2013. The court ruled that his confession, the sole evidence, was not enough to convict him, citing an attendance sheet showing that he had been in a university class at the time of the incident, and witnesses who stated the same. The defendant said he had been coerced into confessing, and presented a forensic medical report finding that he had been “subjected to external force.”

The Federal Court of Cassation’s criminal committee found in March 2019 that the confession had been “clear and detailed” and cited statements made almost five years after the attack by other two officers who had been present at the time of attack. It stated that the forensic medical report findings did not affect “all the other evidence” and ordered a retrial.

In January 2018, the Anbar Criminal Court tried a man for ISIS affiliation and participation in two specific terrorist attacks. The defendant recanted his confession, stating he had been tortured, and the court, determining that there was no other evidence of his alleged links to ISIS, acquitted him.

The criminal committee overruled the decision in November and ordered a retrial, finding that the confession was credible because the defendant made it in the presence of the general prosecutor and his state-appointed lawyer, and citing statements made by plaintiffs not mentioned during the trial. It added that, “his confession was not refuted by any medical report that confirmed that his confession was forced,” and did not address the torture allegations deemed credible by the trial court anywhere within the decision.

According to the case file, in February 2018, a man charged with ISIS affiliation at the Anbar Criminal Court stated that he had been tortured into confessing. His brother, a juvenile in custody and accused of another crime, testified against him. The court said that it could not rely on his brother’s statement because he was a juvenile himself on trial, and that it was suspicious that his own confession to investigators was identical – word for word – to the confession he later made to the investigative judge. It reasoned:

After careful consideration of the facts of the case and evidence obtained in it, the court found that the accused’s statements given to the investigator and the investigative judge were the same, word-for-word, and that the statements given by the accused as a witness, and who is the brother of the accused mentioned above, cannot be accepted since it came from a juvenile defendant, hence it cannot be admitted as evidence in a capital crime.

The criminal committee overruled the decision, finding both the defendant’s confession and his brother’s statements credible, and ordered a retrial.

In January 2019, the Karkh court acquitted a man charged with ISIS affiliation, the case file shows. He recanted his confession at trial and presented a forensic medical report in which the doctor had found that he had been subjected to “external force.” A witness who had implicated the defendant as a member of ISIS also recanted. The court acquitted him for lack of evidence. In April, the criminal committee overruled the acquittal and ordered a retrial, referencing the defendant’s confession while ignoring the forensic medical report, and also relying on the retracted witness statement and two security agency reports that were not mentioned at trial.

On April 1, 2019, Iraq’s High Judicial Council told Human Rights Watch that Iraqi courts had investigated 275 complaints against investigative officers by the end of 2018 in both terrorism and non-terrorism cases. The High Judicial Council stated that 176 of the cases have been “resolved,” while 99 cases were still being addressed. The council did not indicate what the term “resolved” meant in this context, nor how many of the 176 cases were being further investigated or had been dismissed.

Confession-based Prosecution

In one case in which the criminal committee ordered a retrial solely on the basis of a confession, in February 2019, it found that:

The decision issued by the Karkh Criminal Court to drop the charge against the accused and release him is incorrect and against the law as the accused had explicitly, and with the availability of all legal guarantees consisting of the presence of the deputy public prosecutor and the appointed lawyer, confessed to the crime. The accused confessed to belonging to a terrorist group and to have continued supporting it. Therefore, there is sufficient and convincing evidence to convict him. 

In two cases, the additional evidence mentioned by the criminal committee was a single witness statement against the defendant that had not been presented at his trial. In a November 2018 case, the Risafa branch of the Central Criminal Court acquitted a man accused of selling weapons to the Islamic State because his confession was the sole piece of evidence against him. The criminal committee said a witness statement that had not been considered at trial was enough to substantiate the charges and ordered a retrial. In two other cases, the additional evidence the criminal committee relied on was a witness statement that did not implicate the defendant.

Extended Sentences

In four of the 23 cases in which defendants were convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005, two received 15-year sentences and two life sentences. Upon appeal by the prosecution in two cases in an effort to increase the sentences, and the automatic appeal in the life sentence cases, the criminal committee ordered an unspecified increase in sentencing which in the case of life sentences could only be death. The committee said the initial sentences had been too light. One of the cases involved an elderly man sentenced to 15 years because of his age who was accused of working in a Mosul mosque and of pledging support to ISIS in religious speeches.

In two of the 27 cases, the criminal committee upheld a decision to acquit the defendants, in one case based on the defendant’s claim that he had been coerced into confessing. It was unclear from the court documents whether the judges initiated any investigations into the allegations of coercion.

Exonerating Evidence

In December 2018, according to court documents, the Karkh branch of the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad acquitted three men charged under the penal code for detonating a car bomb targeting Iraqi Security Forces in 2005. All three men recanted their confessions and the court said it had evidence that US forces had been behind the explosion and had claimed responsibility. It also found that the men’s confessions diverged from one another’s significantly. In March 2019, the criminal committee overruled the acquittals, saying the men had confessed to Al Qaeda membership in the presence of a prosecutor and their appointed lawyer, and ordered a retrial. It stated that: 

Upon examination and deliberation, it is evident from the facts of the case that the defendants have explicitly confessed to belonging to the terrorist Al Qaeda group and to carrying out several terrorist attacks, one of which is the crime at hand, in the presence of a member of the public prosecution and the appointed attorney. Their confessions were consistent with the course of the investigation, and the bomb being detonated by American troops does not affect the accused’s confessions. Therefore, there is sufficient and convincing evidence to convict them. 

In December 2018, the Karkh Criminal Court acquitted two men who were accused of detonating a bomb in 2011, court documents show, because both defendants recanted their confessions, which had been inconsistent. In addition, witnesses to the attack stated that both defendants had nothing to do with it. The court stated in its decision to acquit that:

Statements given by the injured complainants... show that they did not complain against the accused regarding this crime since they had nothing to do with the incident and since they already knew them as they are from the same area.... The court found that the evidence against the accused amounted only to their confessions written during the investigation, which they recanted. The court also found that the confessions were not validated by any legally admissible evidence. In addition to that, the court found that the confessions given by both accused were inconsistent with each other.

The criminal committee cited the confessions and the exonerating witness statements, overruling the acquittal and ordering a retrial.

Guilt by Association

In August 2018, the Karkh Criminal Court acquitted the only woman among the 27, who was charged with ISIS affiliation based on her husband’s membership. The criminal committee found that her acknowledgment that her husband had joined ISIS, and fake documentation she had while trying to smuggle herself to Turkey after he was killed, constituted enough evidence to convict her on terrorism charges and ordered a retrial. It reasoned: 

The accused had confessed during investigation, with the availability of legal guarantees, that she is the wife of a member of the terrorist group ISIS, and that after her husband was killed by the Peshmerga… an individual called her in order to transport them to Turkey, and she was given a fake civil identity card. They headed to Baghdad and were received by a defendant who owns a guesthouse and transports families from the ISIS terrorist group to safe areas. He took their photos and prepared fake IDs for the purpose of smuggling them out of Iraq, where they were arrested upon their attempt. Her confession was validated by witness statements of the arresting contingent and other witness statements, and the circumstantial evidence consisting of finding fakes IDs of the defendant. Therefore, there is sufficient and convincing evidence to convict and sentence her for the crime. 

The criminal committee ruled that the fact that she was married to an ISIS member and had attempted to leave Iraq using false documentation was enough to secure a conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Law. If prosecuted for the crime of false documentation, the woman would have faced a sentence of as little as six months, But because she was tried under the Anti-Terrorism Law, she was instead potentially facing a sentence of up to 25 years in prison for being an accessory to a crime. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Hassan al-Dika 

© Private
(Beirut) – Lebanese judicial authorities failed to investigate serious torture allegations made by Hassan al-Dika prior to his death in custody, Human Rights Watch said today, on the two-year anniversary of the passage of an anti-torture law.

Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers arrested al-Dika, 44, on November 1, 2018 on drug-related charges. Al-Dika alleged that ISF officers subjected him to repeated beatings and electric shocks, suspended him in stress positions, and forced him to confess, including in notes he allegedly smuggled out of prison. Prison authorities transferred him to a hospital on April 2, 2019 due to his deteriorating health, which his family said resulted from torture in ISF detention. He died in the hospital on May 11.

“The prosecutor’s failure to investigate Hassan al-Dika’s allegations underscores serious failings in how Lebanon’s judiciary is handling torture complaints,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The procedures in the anti-torture law are intended to safeguard the evidence and provide accountability for the crime of torture. Yet two years on, we have yet another case in which authorities failed to follow the law.”

On July 31, in response to a Human Rights Watch letter inquiring about the investigation into al-Dika’s death and torture complaints, Justice Minister Albert Serhan sent Human Rights Watch a copy of the investigation results compiled by the acting cassation prosecutor following al-Dika’s death.

The report stated that the ISF’s Central Criminal Investigations Department conducted the investigation, although the anti-torture law prohibits security agencies from carrying out torture investigations. An investigation by the ISF into actions committed by its own officers is neither independent nor impartial, Human Rights Watch said.

Toufic al-Dika, Hassan al-Dika’s father, who was also acting as his lawyer, filed a complaint with the public prosecutor on November 21, 2018 alleging that his son had been tortured. Instead of referring the complaint to an investigative judge within 48 hours as required under the anti-torture law, the public prosecutor sent it to the ISF, whose officers allegedly committed the torture.

The public prosecutor also did not appoint a forensic medical examiner within 48 hours of receiving the complaint on November 21 as the law requires. Ghassan Moukheiber, a former member of parliament and architect of the anti-torture law, told Human Rights Watch that he met with the public prosecutor in November after Hassan al-Dika’s father submitted the torture complaint to her, urged her to appoint a doctor to examine al-Dika, and that she refused. When he cited the anti-torture law, Moukheiber said, the public prosecutor told him that “she had not seen the law.” On May 12, the investigative judge who issued al-Dika’s arrest warrant also said that that the public prosecutor had not agreed to appoint a forensic doctor to examine al-Dika. The public prosecutor claimed in response that she had authorized al-Dika’s transfer to the hospital and ordered a medical committee to examine al-Dika, but she did so many months after the torture complaint.

On November 23, another public prosecutor authorized Toufic al-Dika to appoint a medical examiner “at his own expense.” Al-Dika’s family appointed a physician and psychiatrist to examine him. Both reported that al-Dika was suffering from serious physical and psychological trauma as a result of abuse. The authorities subsequently claimed that the physician had written a false report, but the psychiatrist’s findings alone should have prompted the authorities to investigate the torture allegations. Despite the psychiatrist’s compelling medical findings, the public prosecution still did not refer the complaint to the judiciary as mandated by law.

While the acting cassation prosecutor’s investigation report, compiled on July 27, after al-Dika’s death, states that a sergeant and nurse examined him upon his transfer to pretrial detention at the Baabda Justice Palace on November 9, as did a physician from the ISF on November 19 who found a number of contusions on al-Dika’s shoulders and right arm, government statements immediately after al-Dika’s death do not reference those medical examinations. While an ISF statement on May 12 disputes the findings of the physician appointed by al-Dika’s family, it does not indicate that other examinations were conducted.

On December 10, Toufic al-Dika filed another torture complaint directly with the investigative judge, enclosing both reports from the physician and psychiatrist he appointed. Both Toufic al-Dika and Moukheiber told Human Rights Watch that the clerk at the judge’s office initially refused to register the complaint. They also alleged that when the investigative judge finally registered the complaint on February 27, he shared details of the complaint with ISF officers.

Subsequently, Toufic al-Dika told Human Rights Watch that he received threats to his life that he deemed serious, compelling him to withdraw both complaints on March 20. The anti-torture law requires the authorities to ensure the protection of the person filing the complaint from ill-treatment and intimidation.

On January 25, three specialized United Nations experts sent a letter to the Lebanese government expressing grave concern about the alleged arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment of al-Dika.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed concern on May 14, following Hassan al-Dika’s death, about the judiciary’s failure to investigate al-Dika’s original allegations of torture, and called for a “thorough, effective, and independent investigation” into his death.

Human Rights Watch also found that the ISF and the public prosecution committed serious due process violations, notably by arresting al-Dika outside the permissible hours and apparently falsifying the date of al-Dika’s arrest.

Human Rights Watch has routinely documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. However, authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and justice for torture in detention remains elusive. Ziad Itani, a well-known actor exonerated of spying for Israel, has described in detail his forced disappearance and torture in detention at the hands of State Security in November 2017. Despite filing a lawsuit against the individuals involved in his torture in November 2018, there has been little movement on his case.

As a party to the Convention against Torture, Lebanon is required to take effective measures to prevent torture, investigate credible allegations of torture, and hold accountable anyone found guilty of committing torture with appropriate penalties that take into account the gravity of the crime.

Lebanon should allocate a sufficient budget for the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture and accept the pending request of the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit Lebanon, submitted on February 13, 2017.

“There is absolutely no excuse when prosecutors and judges continue to ignore the provisions of the anti-torture law,” Fakih said. “Lebanon needs to step up its efforts to combat torture and ensure that anyone found responsible for misconduct in Hassan al-Dika’s case is held accountable.”

Due Process Violations During Hassan al-Dika’s Arrest

Toufic al-Dika told Human Rights Watch that at around 9:30 p.m. on November 1, 2018 more than 50 armed and uniformed ISF officers stormed the building where he and his son Hassan lived in separate apartments, and arrested his son, Hassan al-Dika, without presenting an arrest warrant, even when Toufic asked them to do so.

The father said that he did not hear from his son until two days later when Hassan was allowed to make a brief phone call. He was not allowed to see his family or a lawyer until the ISF transferred him to the Baabda Justice Palace pretrial detention facility on November 9. The authorities subsequently transferred him to Roumieh Prison and then to Aley Prison.

Under Lebanese law, police are not allowed to enter a suspect’s home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Unless a suspect is discovered in the act of committing a crime, police also cannot detain him without the public prosecutor’s prior approval. Article 47 of the Lebanese Code of Criminal Procedure also guarantees detained suspects the right to contact a person of their choosing, to meet with a lawyer, and to request a medical examination as soon as they are arrested. Arresting officers must inform detained suspects of these rights promptly upon arrest.

Pre-charge detention must not exceed 48 hours and can be renewed once for another 48 hours with the public prosecutor’s consent. In the investigation report that the Ministry of Justice sent to Human Rights Watch, the public prosecution claimed that the ISF arrested al-Dika on November 3, instead of November 1, and that the investigation with him concluded on November 5, after which the ISF referred his case to the public prosecution. ISF records compiled at the time of al-Dika’s arrest and interrogation, which Toufic shared with Human Rights Watch, indicate that al-Dika was arrested on November 1, not November 3.

The ISF stated that al-Dika remained at the ISF Information Branch until November 9 due to the lack of vacant pretrial detention places at the Baabda Justice Palace.

Officers found to have breached rules regarding the detention of a suspect are criminally liable for unlawful detention. The judiciary should ensure that an independent investigation is conducted into the allegations, and hold the responsible officers to account, Human Rights Watch said.

Hassan al-Dika’s Account of Torture

Human Rights Watch saw notes that Toufic al-Dika alleges his son Hassan al-Dika wrote during his pretrial detention at the Baabda Justice Palace, and smuggled out on cigarette cartons. In the notes, Hassan al-Dika described his ordeal at the ISF’s Information Branch. This account is consistent with reporting about Hassan’s case prior to his death.

He wrote that upon his arrest on the evening of Thursday, November 1, he was taken to a police building in the neighborhood of Ain El-Remmeneh, where he was kept overnight. The next morning, he was taken to the Information Branch, where officers handcuffed and blindfolded him, and forced him to remove his clothes. He stated that officers made him wait in a dark room “smaller than a toilet” for 15 minutes and then took him to a room where officers questioned him about his alleged drug smuggling. When al-Dika denied the accusations, he wrote, five officers beat him for two hours on his head, face, and stomach.  

After the beating, al-Dika wrote, officers interrogated him about his customs clearance company and his employees, and asked that he provide the requested information. He said he was then taken to a cell and left alone for two hours. Officers then entered the room and started questioning him about his alleged crime again. When he answered truthfully, he wrote, one of the officers called him a liar and officers beat him, applied electric shocks, and subjected him to the “falaka,” a form of torture that entails beating on the soles of the feet.

Al-Dika wrote that a few hours later, officers took him for interrogation again, where the torture was “on another level.” Officers beat him, including on his feet, and put him in the farrouj position, suspending him with his hands tied from an iron bar passed under his knees. Al-Dika wrote that he fainted an hour later, and when he regained consciousness, an officer told him, “Do you want to talk, or do you want to die?”

Al-Dika wrote that after that, he agreed to everything. “If they asked me whether I had killed the prophet, I would have said yes,” al-Dika wrote.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Armed forces allied to internationally recognized government fight with armed group in Tripoli, Libya September 22, 2018. 

© 2018 Hani Amara/Reuters

The scars ran deep. His back was a maze of thick welts, thinner scars and parts that resembled small craters. His wrists and ankles were raw from where he’d been shackled and suspended from a ceiling for hours, and his limbs appeared limp and stretched. His eyes were expressionless. The torture destroyed me as a person, Ali[1] said.  

Ali, 24, told me he had been tortured within an inch of his life in Benghazi. He was stopped at a checkpoint by an armed group affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) who accused his brother of fighting against the LNA in Benghazi. No matter that his brother was 1,000 kilometers away in Tripoli. Ali said he barely made it out alive after three days of almost non-stop torture. 

Sadly, his story is not unique. During the past eight years, as Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, I have interviewed hundreds of victims of human rights violations, or their relatives, and have visited dozens of prisons, migrant detention centers and informal detention facilities. 

The list of serious abuses is long and goes well beyond torture and arbitrary detention, including those arising from the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, the more recent conflicts in 2014 and the current conflict in Tripoli.

I have investigated the plight of thousands forcibly displaced from their homes in Tawergha by armed groups from Misrata, the vast majority of whom cannot return home; extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by groups linked with the LNA; and  sieges by the LNA that left civilians without access to food, water or medical care.

In the ongoing Tripoli conflict, there is wanton destruction of private property and indiscriminate attacks against civilians by all parties. 

Many more violations are the direct result of systemic failures of consecutive post-Gaddafi governments and their supporters during periods of peace. We visited people held in long-term arbitrary detention without judicial review, primarily because post-2011 governments failed to establish a functioning justice system. In Misrata, we interviewed torture victims in detention facilities run by the Justice Ministry, still bloodied after their ordeal. In Benghazi, we documented scores of politically motivated assassinations, including of activists and journalists, mostly by unidentified perpetrators where no one was held to account. In Tripoli, we met relatives and friends of victims of kidnapping and enforced disappearances by armed groups linked with the Government of National Accord (GNA). 

In western Libya, we uncovered widespread abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by smugglers and the GNA-linked coast guards and prison authorities. Some were held in slave-like conditions. 

Multiple armed conflicts and political rifts since 2011 have had a devastating effect on civilians. In the absence of central authority, armed groups have committed human rights crimes with impunity. Most notable are “Dignity” (Karama) the May 2014 military campaign by LNA commander General Khalifa Hiftar to take control of the eastern region to “root out terrorism,” and the ensuing war in Tripoli between competing factions, from which emerged three, then two, authorities, claiming legitimacy. 

The situation has worsened since Hiftar’s April 4 war  on Tripoli. The LNA, an armed group controlling eastern Libya and parts of the south and allied with the Interim Government, is trying to wrest control of western Libya from the competing, internationally recognized Government of National Accord. Over 100 civilians have been killed, thousands more displaced, and civilian infrastructure has been damaged. 

Despite the magnitude of the human rights crimes in Libya, attempts to hold wrongdoers to account, in domestic and international courts, and through sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, have failed to break the cycle of impunity. 

Few cases have been heard by civil and military courts in Libya. The post-Gaddafi interim government, strongly supported by the UN and western governments, did not prioritize a functioning justice system. So thousands of people in east and west of the country remained in long-term abusive arbitrary detention without a hearing. Domestic courts, affected by political divisions and armed conflict, are barely functional, with procedures hampered by grave due process violations, including forced confessions, ill treatment, and lack of access to lawyers. In some areas, including the south, the criminal justice system has collapsed. Lawyers, judges and prosecutors are also prime targets of militias.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a mandate to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Libya yet the prosecutor has issued only one arrest warrant since 2011: against Mahmoud el-Werfalli, a commander linked to the LNA, for extrajudicial executions. 

The UN sanctions have been underused: only eight people have been listed for individual targeted sanctions since the 2011 revolution, including two militia commanders and six people involved in trafficking. Attempts to list abusive warlords and officials have failed because powerful backers within the Security Council have blocked such designations. The UN Human Rights Council shut down its Commission of Inquiry on Libya in  2012 leaving inadequate public reporting on crimes committed by all sides in Libya.

Nor has Libya seen justice for crimes committed under Gaddafi’s rule. Although media reports that a Tripoli criminal court is investigating the June 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre in which 1,200 prisoners were killed, no one has yet been held responsible. Many who opposed Gaddafi remain missing, including prominent opposition members Jaballa Hamed Matar and Izzat al-Megaryef, who were arrested by Egyptian security forces in Cairo in 1990 and sent to Abu Salim. Lebanese Shia cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr disappeared in Libya in 1978; his fate remains unknown. 

It will take strong political will to expose those behind the most serious violations and bring justice. The narrative that peace in Libya will come only through political and economic settlements and holding abusive warlords and officials to account is counterproductive, is ill conceived. Real peace depends on first seeing justice done. Libya urgently needs a robust investigative mechanism to establish responsibility for violations and to document and preserve evidence of these crimes – for example, an independent UN International Commission of Inquiry.  

Peace and justice depend on each other. Ali was tired but he wanted me to document every detail that he could remember of his ordeal, and to see every scar. It mattered a lot that he could tell his story and know that someone would preserve it. Then maybe one day, those who tormented him would be arrested and sent to jail. 

[1] HRW interview with Ali (name changed), October 2017, Tripoli, Libya.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An Equatorial Guinea court’s conviction of 112 defendants on May 31, 2019, in a trial rife with due process violations, including confessions extracted through torture, represents a gross miscarriage of justice, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a video about the trial.

The American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Project, sent five monitors to observe the trial. Juan Mendez, the former United Nations special rapporteur on torture and member of the TrialWatch Advisory Board, prepared a public preliminary report based on their notes, which describes a litany of abuse including coerced confessions and due process violations before and during the trial. The video includes interviews with Mendez and two lawyers who observed parts of the trial.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
(Geneva) – Bangladesh should implement the recommendations made by the United Nations Committee against Torture to end the widespread practice of torture in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The committee’s first review of Bangladesh under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment will be from July 29 to August 8, 2019, in Geneva.

Bangladeshi security forces are seldom held accountable for serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of people in custody. Instead, authorities have cracked down on rights groups, activists, and journalists for exposing these violations. Bangladesh, for the first time, agreed to come under review by the committee since ratifying the Convention against Torture over 20 years ago, by submitting its long-overdue state report on measures it has taken to uphold its commitments under the treaty. The government claimed that it “has already undertaken several measures to improve the responses from the authorities and bodies responsible for promotion and protection of human rights and also the quality of access to justice for the victims of torture.”

“Bangladesh’s appearance before the UN Committee Against Torture is an important opportunity to acknowledge the endemic use of torture by the country’s security forces,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should adopt the committee’s recommendations, enforce existing laws against torture, and send a clear message to security forces that it’s serious about eradicating torture.”

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread torture by Bangladesh security forces including beating detainees with iron rods, belts, and sticks; subjecting detainees to electric shocks, waterboarding, hanging detainees from ceilings and beating them; and deliberately shooting detainees, typically in the lower leg, described as “kneecapping.” Authorities routinely claim that these victims were shot in self-defense, in “crossfire,” or during violent protests.

In 2013, the government passed the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, signaling a commitment to eliminating torture. However, there have been very few cases filed under the Torture Act and not a single case has been completed. Meanwhile, investigations by human rights organizations suggest that authorities still routinely torture people in custody. Since the passage of the law, there have been 160 documented cases of torture. The actual number is likely much higher.

Instead of enforcing the law, Bangladeshi police have repeatedly called for the government to amend it to be less prohibitive, calling into question whether Bangladesh’s security forces are serious about ending their torture practices. In 2015, the police submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to repeal section 12 of the Torture Act, which states that circumstances such as war, political instability, or emergency are not considered an acceptable excuse for the commission of torture. They also proposed that certain law enforcement units – including those with the most notorious reputations for committing torture, such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the Criminal Investigations Department, the Special Branch, and the Detective Branch – be excluded from prosecution under the act.

Last year, during Bangladesh Police Week 2018, the police again implored Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to amend the act, and Hasina said she would consider it, according to the Dhaka Tribune. Instead of succumbing to police pressure, the government should stand firm behind its international commitments to eradicate torture, Human Rights Watch said.

In its report submitted to the Committee against Torture, Bangladesh outlined its commitments under domestic and international law to protect against forced confessions, including that a magistrate must explain to the accused that they are “not bound to make a confession, and that if he does so it may be used as evidence against him. Moreover, a Magistrate should not record any such confession unless he has reason to believe that it is being made voluntarily.” However, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous reports of RAB, the Director General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), and the police using torture to extract confessions, often making suspects sign blank sheets of paper.

Sections 54 and 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code empower the police to detain people for 15 days without a lawyer, known as remand, which has long been criticized as a loophole for torture. Human rights organizations have repeatedly documented that instances of torture most frequently occur during remand.

In 2003, the High Court Division of Bangladesh concluded that, deployed broadly, sections 54 and 167 were inconsistent with rights guaranteed in the constitution. The Supreme Court issued 15 directives to safeguard against abuse of the powers of arrest and interrogation in custodial detention, including that authorities must take permission from a magistrate to conduct interrogation in remand and that it must take place in a room with glass walls inside the prison, with lawyers and relatives allowed to monitor nearby. Moreover, authorities must inform the person of the reason for arrest within three hours and ensure that a relative or friend of the detained person is informed within 12 hours of the arrest about the time, place of arrest, and place of detention.

But these directives are inconsistently followed, if at all, Human Rights Watch said. Since 2013 – the same year the Torture Act passed – arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances by law enforcement authorities have increased. In most cases, those arrested remain in custody for weeks or months before being formally charged or released. Others are killed in so-called armed exchanges, and many remain disappeared. There were 90 reported cases of disappearances in 2018 alone. While many of those disappeared are never located or released, those who are, often are afraid to speak out. However, those who do describe their experiences consistently allege severe torture.

For example, Idris Ali, 56, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, was on his motorbike returning to his house from the market on August 4, 2016, when, according to witnesses, plainclothes people from a police post stopped him and forcibly dragged him away. Family members went to their local police station but the officer-in-charge told them that the location where Ali was allegedly taken was not within the station’s jurisdiction, and that they should go to the Shailkupa police station to file a report. Officers there, however, declined to allow them to do so. On the morning of August 12, police informed the family that the body of a missing madrasa teacher was found on the Harinakundu-Jhenaidah road. A family member said they went to the morgue:

We went there and found his mutilated body. After conducting autopsy and postmortem examinations, police claimed that it was a case of a road mishap, and Idris’s motorcycle was found at the roadside. We, however, identified marks of severe torture on different parts of the body. There were marks of hammering behind the head. Tendons were slashed. All the parts of the body bore torture marks.

In other cases, families still wait for answers with authorities denying the arrests, although in several cases, there are credible witnesses that say that their relatives were taken into custody by security forces.

“Bangladesh should be commended for committing to work with the UN to fulfill its mandate to prevent torture,” Adams said. “But the government needs to recognize and take responsibility for the torture committed by its security forces today.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Photos of Ali al-Arab and Ahmad al-Malali, whose death sentences were upheld by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation on May 6, 2019. 

© Private

(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities appear ready to carry out death sentences against Ali al-Arab, 25, and Ahmad al-Malali, 24, both Bahraini citizens, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces arrested them separately on February 9, 2017. A court convicted them of terrorism offenses and sentenced them to death on January 31, 2018 in a mass trial marred by allegations of torture and serious due process violations.

Sources said there is an increased security presence around the prison. In addition, a member of al-Arab’s family told the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy that he received a phone call from the Jaw prison, where al-Arab is being detained, asking the family to come for a “special visit” with al-Arab this afternoon. He said that al-Malali’s family received a similar phone call.

“If the executions are indeed imminent, then the king has committed a grave injustice by ratifying the death sentences of the two men despite the allegations of torture and other serious due process concerns,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “He should right the wrong by immediately revoking the death sentences.”

The Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence against the two men on May 6, 2019. Under Bahraini law, after the Court of Cassation confirms a death sentence, the decision is sent to the king, who has the power to ratify the sentence, commute it, or grant a pardon.

Local groups reported that the last time family members of death-row inmates had similar notifications, the detainees were executed within a few hours. Under article 330 of Bahrain’s Code of Criminal Procedure, family members are permitted a final visit before the execution, on the day it is scheduled.

On May 30, 13 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, wrote a joint letter to King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa about the al-Arab and al-Malali cases. The groups raised their concerns about the men’s death sentences given the allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture and their right to a fair trial was violated. The rights groups urged the king to commute the sentences, as the men had exhausted all legal remedies available to them.

In a letter addressed to the king on December 11, 2018, three UN human rights experts expressed extreme concern about the imposition of the death penalty on several defendants, including al-Arab and al-Malali, amid allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and its special rapporteur on torture had similarly expressed “grave concern” about al-Arab’s allegations of torture in a letter to the king on July 6, 2017.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty. Bahrain’s use of the death penalty is contrary to international human rights law, statements of UN human rights experts, and various UN bodies.

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly said that countries should declare a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed – all with the view toward its eventual abolition.

“The king’s indifference to the evidence raised by UN experts and rights groups demonstrates he’s not serious about reform,” Fakih said. “The death penalty is an irreversible punishment that should be abolished immediately, and the two young men should be spared such a cruel death.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry released a video statement on July 12 alleging the eight Egyptians were sought for criminal offenses in Egypt. Video originally published on Kuwait’s Interior Ministry YouTube Page.

(Beirut) – Kuwaiti authorities on July 15, 2019 unlawfully returned eight Egyptian dissidents despite the serious risk of torture and persecution they face in Egypt, Human Rights Watch said today. The deportation of the men appears to violate Kuwait’s obligations under international law.

On July 12, the Kuwaiti government announced that it had separately arrested the eight dissidents, claiming that the Egyptian authorities sought them for crimes they allegedly committed in Egypt as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Kuwaiti authorities should end further deportations to Egypt of anyone facing mistreatment and hold accountable those responsible for the recent deportations.

“Kuwaiti authorities have put at grave risk eight men who fled mass oppression in Egypt and thought they had found refuge in Kuwait,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s horrendous that Kuwait is acting at the behest of abusive Egyptian security agencies and returning dissidents to face torture and persecution.”

KUNA, Kuwait’s official news agency, said on July 15 that the government deported “wanted” Egyptians, identifying them as Hossam Ibrahim al-Adl, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Ahmed, Abu-Bakr Atef al-Fayiomi, Abdel Rahman Ibrahim Abdel Moniem, Walid Suleiman, Najeh Awad, Faleh Hassan, and Mo’men Abu Al-Wafa. All had lived in Kuwait for several years. There is no record of any judicial review of the deportation orders or of the risks faced by these men on return to Egypt.

Kuwait’s Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming that the eight men were members of a “terrorist cell” that was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and that they had been convicted by Egyptian courts. The ministry said that it had the deportees under surveillance before their arrest. It published a video showing their names with blurred faces and claimed that they “confessed to carrying out terrorist activities … in different parts in Egypt.”

The deputy foreign minister, Khaled Al-Jarallah, said that the deportations followed “cooperation” with the Egyptian authorities and that “this cooperation will continue.” He said that “the Kuwaiti-Egyptian security coordination is very strong and makes us feel assured.”

Hossam Ibrahim al-Adl’s daughter, Menna al-Adl, told Human Rights Watch that men in civilian clothes arrested her father on July 10 at the pharmacy where he worked. Al-Adl, 57, had been living legally in Kuwait since October 2013, his daughter said. Her family provided two videos from the pharmacy’s security cameras that show the moment al-Adl was arrested.

Menna al-Adl said her father had never been arrested before, in Egypt or Kuwait. Human Rights Watch reviewed court documents that show Egyptian courts had acquitted al-Adl in three cases of alleged protests and political violence between 2014 and 2016.  She said an Egyptian court sentenced him to five years in prison in 2016 for allegedly participating in a 2016 protest even though he had not been back to Egypt since he left, in October 2013.

She also said that Kuwaiti State Security officials confirmed they had detained al-Adl but refused to allow the family to visit him. “Every lawyer we approached said he couldn’t do anything,” she said. “They said because it’s a State Security case, they can’t intervene.” Al-Adl’s family said they do not know any of the other men deported.

As a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Kuwait has a treaty obligation not to return anyone to a territory where they face a real risk of torture or ill-treatment. Under customary international law, Kuwait is also obligated to ensure that no one is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution. In addition, Kuwait violated due process rights by denying the men an opportunity to fairly contest their arrests and deportation, and by denying them access to lawyers and family members.

Egyptian authorities have not officially commented about the returned dissidents. In January and March, one Egyptian deported from Turkey and five deported from Malaysia were reported missing upon their forcible return to Egypt. The man deported from Turkey appeared weeks later in a court hearing with signs that he had been “badly tortured,” lawyers said.

Since July 2013, the Egyptian government has arbitrarily detained or prosecuted tens of thousands of dissidents on political grounds. Prosecutors have placed thousands in lengthy pretrial detention without a legal basis. Judges have also unlawfully held hundreds of detainees in pretrial detention beyond the two-year limit under Egyptian law. Many of those detained were rounded up solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and free expression, including membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government banned in 2013.

Egypt’s prisons are notorious for unlawful detention conditions including overcrowding and insufficient access to medical care. Torture in unofficial detention sites is rampant and unpunished. Security forces torture detainees during lengthy periods of forced disappearance to extract confessions.

“Torture in Egypt, because of its systematic, widespread nature and indications that it is state policy, may be crimes against humanity,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


A police officer badly injured the detainee’s left arm while torturing him during an interrogation, leading eventually to an amputation following unsuccessful surgeries. 

© 2018 Private

(Beirut) – The amputation of a detainee’s arm in early 2019 following apparent torture in a Baghdad police station highlights mounting concerns around ill-treatment in Iraq’s prisons, Human Rights Watch said today.

The man’s brother said that a complaint by the victim during his trial has been ignored and that a complaint by his wife to the agency that supervises judicial conduct had received no response. The brother said he had requested an investigation, which led to the transfer of a police officer but no disciplinary action. Judicial authorities should investigate and determine who was responsible, punish abusive officers, and compensate the victim.

“A detainee who loses his arm because of torture in custody is one more sign that something is very wrong in Iraqi detention facilities,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should take detainees’ rights seriously and start to protect them by investigating abuses.”

Iraqi judges, despite the extensive credible reports of torture in detention, routinely fail to investigate torture allegations, Human Rights Watch has found. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous torture allegations in Iraq, in at least two cases leading to deaths in custody since January 2018.

A man who requested anonymity to protect himself and his family told Human Rights Watch that an acquaintance of his 40-year-old brother had named the brother as an accomplice in a car theft. Police arrested him in late March 2018. A week later, his brother visited him at Harthiya police station. The jailed brother told him that during an extended interrogation in which an interrogator was trying to extract a confession, he had “hung him from his hands for three days,” and showed his brother the bruises.

The jailed brother underwent a forensic medical exam in May 2018. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of the report, which noted bruising and swelling to his left hand and arm all the way to his shoulder and recommended that he see a doctor who specialized in bones and fractures.

He did not receive medical treatment until July, when police transferred him to Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad. The man said he was allowed to accompany his brother and heard a doctor tell the officer guarding his brother that the brother had been tortured, which the officer denied. Doctors performed surgery on his arm three times over the next 10 months in an unsuccessful attempt to repair arterial damage. In April 2019, the man said, officers took his brother to Ghazi al-Hariri Hospital in Baghdad, where doctors amputated his arm and then returned him to police custody.

A police officer badly injured the detainee’s left arm while torturing him during an interrogation, leading eventually to an amputation following unsuccessful surgeries. 

© 2018 Private

In December 2018, the brother who spoke to Human Rights Watch contacted Major General Hussein Ali Dana, the then head of Baghdad Inspection Directorate in the Interior Ministry to demand an investigation into the abuse his brother suffered. He said Dana sent a team to investigate and told the man later that he had ordered the transfer of the officer the jailed brother accused to another police station in Baghdad but did not discipline him further. Human Rights Watch contacted the directorate’s current head, who said that without the exact date of the December complaint, the office could not provide any information on the investigation.

In January 2019, the jailed brother’s wife lodged a complaint with the presidency of the Judicial Supervisory Authority, which monitors the conduct of judges and staff in all Iraqi courts, because her husband told her that in late 2018 a judge had forced him to sign a statement dropping his right to pursue charges against the officer who had tortured him. She told Human Rights Watch she had not heard anything since. On June 25, Chief Justice Jassim Alumairi, the Judicial Supervisory Council president, told Human Rights Watch that a team had investigated the allegation but had not found evidence to substantiate it, but could not share any of the documents related to the investigation with Human Rights Watch.

On April 14, a court found the jailed brother guilty of car theft and sentenced him and five other defendants to 15 years in prison. At the trial, his wife said, she heard him tell the judge that an interrogator tortured him leading to his arm being amputated but the judge ignored the claim. He is currently still being held at Harthiya police station.

Iraq’s High Judicial Council, which manages and supervises affairs of the federal judiciary, should issue guidelines on the steps judges are obliged to take when a defendant alleges torture, Human Rights Watch said. Judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment to protect them from retaliation. They should prosecute anyone against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in torture.

“Iraq’s judiciary, law enforcement, and prison authorities owe all Iraqis a commitment to investigate each and every credible allegation of cruel treatment,” Fakih said. “What happened to this detainee should never happen to anyone in the government’s custody.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC, June 19, 2019) – Governments in the Americas and Europe should impose targeted sanctions against top Nicaraguan authorities implicated in egregious abuses and explore avenues to press for accountability, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 98-page report, “Crackdown in Nicaragua: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Prosecutions of Protesters and Opponents,” documents what happened to many of the hundreds of people arrested by police or abducted by armed pro-government groups after the crackdown on protesters that began in April 2018. Many were subjected to abuse that in some cases amounted to torture. Some who were injured were reportedly denied medical care in public health centers, and doctors who provided care said they suffered retaliation. Detainees have been prosecuted in cases marred by serious due process violations.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The entrance to the Karkh branch of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court.

© 2019 Khalid Mohammed/AP Images

(Beirut) – Two French citizens tried in recent days in Iraq for affiliation with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) have alleged that they were tortured or coerced to confess, Human Rights Watch said today.

Seven French citizens were sentenced to death in the trials between May 26 and 29, 2019, and another’s verdict was postponed. At least one defendant said that Iraqi officers tortured him and another said that officers forced him to confess under duress and to sign a statement he could not read. Despite these allegations, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, stated on May 29 that the defendants had “fair trials.”

“France and other countries should not be outsourcing management of their terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These countries should not be sitting idly by while their citizens are transferred to a country where their right to a fair trial and protection from torture are undermined.”

The men are part of a group of foreign detainees, including at least 11 French nationals, whom the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) transferred from northeast Syria to Iraq in early 2019. In these cases, because of the risk of torture and absence of fair trials, the transfers are unlawful, Human Rights Watch said. These abuses highlight the urgent need for countries like France that can guarantee due process, to ensure that their nationals can return to their home country. There, any national suspected of war crimes, torture, or other international crimes should be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted in trials that meet internationally accepted fair-trial standards.

The Karkh branch of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court sentenced seven French citizens to death for ISIS affiliation and postponed the verdict of an eight, who alleged in court that he was tortured, until June 2. Court sources said that the other French nationals the SDF transferred from Syria will be charged and sentenced by the court in the coming days, including three on June 3.

One French defendant who appeared in court on May 27 told the court that officers tortured him in detention, two trial observers told Human Rights Watch. The presiding judge had the defendant lift his shirt, saw marks on his back and shoulder, and ordered a forensic medical exam and for the defendant to reappear in court on June 2. The judge did not ask for details about where or when the torture occurred, who had tortured him, or in what way, one observer said.

The observers said that a French defendant who was sentenced to death told the judge that officers had forced him under duress to confess and to sign a statement in Arabic that he could not understand. The observers said they understood his reference to duress to mean that he might be implying he was tortured. The judge asked him to lift his shirt and seemingly because there were no obvious signs of torture, sentenced him to death without asking any questions regarding the allegation.

Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi interrogators using a range of torture techniques, including beating suspects on the soles of their feet, internationally known as “falaka,” and waterboarding, which would not leave lasting marks on the person’s body. Despite extensive, credible reports of torture in detention, Human Rights Watch has also documented the routine failure of the Iraqi justice system to credibly investigate torture allegations.

Over the last few years, Iraqi detainees charged with ISIS affiliation have been subjected to unfair trials that end with the death penalty. With the exception of one court, the trials Human Rights Watch has observed since 2016 have consisted of a judge briefly interviewing the defendant, usually relying solely on a confession, often coerced, with no effective legal representation. Authorities have also made no efforts to solicit victim participation in the trials, even as witnesses.

The United Nations Convention against Torture prohibits the transfer of detainees to a country where “there are substantial grounds for believing” they would be in danger of being tortured. Customary international law has a similar prohibition.

Several thousand Iraqi suspects and more than 2,000 non-Iraqi foreign ISIS suspects detained in northeast Syria by the SDF are at risk of transfer to Iraq for prosecution, with negotiations underway. In 2018, Human Rights Watch documented that the United States also transferred foreign ISIS suspects in northeast Syria to Iraq without apparent regard for the risk of torture and unfair trials in Iraq. A Reuters investigation documented at least 30 such transfers.

Neither the SDF nor any country should transfer detainees to Iraq for prosecution for terrorism or related crimes given the risk of torture and unfair trials, leading to the death penalty. In cases in which detainees have already been transferred to Iraq, those who transferred them are obligated under international law to monitor their cases to ensure that suspects are not mistreated and, if prosecuted, are tried fairly.

Countries with fair justice systems should take all possible measures to ensure that their nationals in custody in northeast Syria can return to their home country, where those suspected of war crimes and other international crimes should be investigated. These countries should ensure that trials of those charged with international crimes including rape, torture, killings, and other war crimes allow for victim and witness participation.

For detainees in Iraqi custody, judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment, to protect them from retaliation.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances. In Iraq, where the trials of ISIS suspects fail to meet even the most basic markers of due process, its application is of particular concern.

“The serious flaws in the Iraqi prosecutions, including torture, have been well documented,” Fakih said. “If countries like France do not want their nationals to face the death penalty, as representatives have claimed to the media, then they should bring them home for investigation and prosecution.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Photos of Ali al-Arab and Ahmad al-Malali, whose death sentences were upheld by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation on May 6, 2019. 

© Private

Your Majesty,

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to commute the death sentences of Ali Al-Arab and Ahmed Al-Malali, who have exhausted all legal remedies available to them after the Court of Cassation rejected their appeal on May 6, 2019. Our organizations oppose the death penalty in all cases, regardless of who is accused, the crime, their guilt or innocence, or the method of execution. The cases of Mr. Ali Al-Arab and Mr. Ahmed Al-Malali raise additional concerns, however, given the allegations that their confessions were obtained under torture and their right to a fair trial was violated.

According to the information available to our organizations, security forces arrested Al-Arab, 25, and Al-Malali, 24, separately, without a warrant, on 9 February 2017. Al-Arab’s family told Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy that during his interrogation, members of the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) beat him, used electric shocks on him, and pulled out his toenails, after which they forced him to sign a “confession” while blindfolded.

During Al-Malali’s arrest, he was struck by at least two bullets, but UN human rights experts noted that the bullets were not removed until 23 days later. Al-Malali was held incommunicado for around two months at the CID and, according to the experts, was allegedly tortured into signing a “confession” without reading it beforehand.

Despite allegations that Al-Arab and Al-Malali were coerced into confessing, the court relied on these confessions to convict them. On January 31, 2018, both men were sentenced to death in a mass trial with 58 other defendants. To convict them, the court relied on the men’s “confessions,” which as noted above were obtained under torture, according to credible sources.

In a letter on 21 May 2019, five United Nations human rights experts appealed to the Government of Bahrain to “halt the imminent executions” of Mr. Al-Arab and Mr. Al-Malali, raising “serious concerns that they were coerced into making confessions through torture and did not receive a fair trial.”

The lives of these two young men are in your hands. We call on Your Majesty not to ratify the death sentences imposed on the two men and to ensure they are not executed. We urge you to order a retrial that fully complies with international fair trial standards and excludes evidence obtained under torture, and to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the men’s claims of torture. We acknowledge the authorities’ duty to prevent crime and bring those responsible to justice, but emphasize that this should always be done in accordance with Bahrain’s national and international human rights obligations.

Bahrain should join the many countries already committed to the UN General Assembly’s December 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, with the aim of abolishing the death penalty. Therefore, we further urge you to: immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing capital punishment in Bahrain; commute all outstanding death sentences to terms of imprisonment, and conduct a comprehensive review of Bahrain’s death row, with a view to ensuring that victims of human rights abuses unlawfully sentenced to death receive redress.


  1. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) – France
  2. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) – Germany
  3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  4. Amnesty International
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  6. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  7. Fair Trials
  8. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
  9. Human Rights Watch
  10. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  11. Redress
  12. Reprieve
  13. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am