Bahrain draws fire for charging a child for protesting

On Wednesday morning, the primary school pupil from suburban Manama stood in court and listened as the case against him was spelled out: Hasan had helped protesters to block a street with rubbish containers and wood during demonstrations last month. His defence: that he is a child who was just playing with friends in the street.

“On the day before I was arrested, there was some fighting in the streets near my house between the demonstrators and the police,” Hasan told the Guardian by phone from his home in the Bilad al-Qadeem suburb of Manama. “The demonstrators had blocked the street by setting fire to tyres and using containers which people dispose of their rubbish.

“The day after this, I went to the street with two of my friends to play. It was around 3pm. While we were playing there some police forces came towards us, which made us panic. My friends managed to run away … but I was so scared by the guns they were carrying that I couldn’t move and I was arrested.”

Bahrain’s rulers have been ruthless in the cases they have pursued against those accused of involvement in 15 months of protest against the Khalifa dynasty. Doctors, nurses and rights activists have been prosecuted. But Hasan’s case marks a new precedent in the legal crackdown against civil society. He is believed to be the youngest Bahraini to stand trial in connection with the uprising.

Anything to go back home
In fact, Hasan spent weeks in jail before he was granted bail last week – he even took his exams in prison.

After his arrest, he was taken to several police stations where, he said, he was forced to confess to participating in anti-government demonstrations.

“I was crying all the time. I told them I’d confess to anything to go back home,” he said.

Hasan’s father, Jasem Hasan, a car parts dealer, said his son was taken back to the detention centre the day after his arrest.

“I was abroad at the time and when I called, Ali’s mother was only crying. She was crying for all the time Ali was in prison,” he said.

In jail, Hasan spent a month in a room with three other children and was made to clean the centre. “We would wake up early in the morning for breakfast, usually around 6.30, and then I had to do some job,” he said.

“The first day in jail was horrible. I cried all the time but I became friends with the other boys there and we could play for four hours every day, but had to spend all our other time in a locked room.”

Describing the centre, he said: “It’s like putting a bear in a box, I felt just like that. I never want to go back to that place again.”

Bahrain’s chief prosecutor for those under the age of 18, Noura al-Khalifa, has said that Hasan was detained while blocking the street and Bahraini information officials have said that he was participating in an “illegal gathering”.

But his father said the allegations were lies. “They claimed that my son had accepted money in exchange for setting fire to tyres and blocking the road.

“I don’t say I’m a rich person, but I make enough money and my son doesn’t need to go in streets looking for money. I always give enough money to him.”

Hasan’s lawyer, Mohsen al-Alawi, said the boy had nothing to do with the demonstrations. “Ali was not a political activist or a demonstrator. He was only playing games like all other children of his age.”

Human Rights Watch has expressed concerns about Hasan’s case. “He was not accompanied by a lawyer during his questioning,” said Mariwan Hama-Saeed. “It seems the only evidence used against him is his own confession and the testimony of a police officer.”

The British and United States governments have been criticised for maintaining close relations with the Bahraini leadership and failing to address human rights abuses in an uprising that has left scores dead.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa programme at Amnesty International, said: “Arresting an 11-year-old boy and interrogating him for hours without a lawyer before trying him on spurious charges shows a jaw-dropping lack of respect for his rights.”

On Wednesday, the court adjourned Hasan’s case and said it would hand down judgment on July 5. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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