Relations between Doha and Manama remain tense despite the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration.
Bahrain has accused the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Network of launching an “aggressive defamation campaign” following the broadcast on Sunday of an investigation into imprisoned minors in the Gulf kingdom.
Manama’s interior ministry [MOI] responded to the “Distance Zero” episode with a statement denying allegations of human rights abuses.
The smear campaigns “include what the channel aired about an alleged conversation between Bahraini youth and one of the Interior Ministry’s personnel. Along with frequent allegations of torture and visit prevention against inmates, it referred to them as ‘prisoned children’ [sic],” read the statement.
The popular show’s latest episode detailed human rights abuses by Bahraini authorities at the Dry Dock Detention Centre, where hundreds of minors are imprisoned. It also revealed disturbing tactics used by police officers during interrogations.
— قناة الجزيرة (@AJArabic) September 26, 2021
The ministry went on to defend its “alternative penalties” programme – an initiative which it claims provides community service and rehabilitation courses as options for those it perceives to be criminals- claiming the program has “benefited 3552 individuals” and received global praise.
“It could have been better if Qatar focused on developing its human rights protection laws and programmes instead of challenging the successes of others…the incitement and buying the consciousness of people approach of Al Jazeera channel within the campaign against Bahrain and its people is blatant,” read the statement from Bahrain’s MOI.
The episode revealed how Bahraini authorities tried to get a minor named Abdullah Rashed to spy on civilians in his neighbourhood of Abu Gowa following protests that took place after the death of prisoner Hassan Abdel Nabi Mansour.
Commenting on the recruitment of minors, the MOI attempted to refute the findings by saying that Qatari authorities had hired Bahraini military and security personnel in the past- but failed to clarify the connection between the former and latter.
As part of Al Jazeera’s investigation, it was revealed that at least 607 children in Bahrain have suffered from abuse and harsh interrogation carried out without the presence of their parents or lawyers.
A Bahraini Prosecution source said there are more than 150 children in prisons across the kingdom – a claim refuted by the MOI statement which said detainees, aged 15-to-18 years, are serving their sentences in a “special correctional centre” under the supervision of the General Directorate of Women Police.
“Moreover, those below 14 come under special legal and human rights welfare procedures that couldn’t be found in the country that sponsors the channel…,” it said, referring to Qatar.
“Maltreatment of children and others are baseless,” added the statement.
The statement also made mention of children detained at the notorious Jau prison though claimed they had been “convicted in criminal and terrorist cases”.
While it claimed they were subjected to a fair trial, Al Jazeera said that the confessions were forced out of the minors.
The kingdom has come under global spotlight since the 2011 uprisings erupted during the region-wide Arab Spring. A decade later, rights groups say Bahrain is still continuing its human rights violations on freedom of expression.
A recent Human Rights Watch [HRW] report dismissed denials by the Bahraini government on rape threats and physical torture of four boys aged 15-to-17 years in detention in late 2020.
“[The Bahraini government report] is a blatant effort to whitewash serious human rights violations,” said HRW, noting that foreign governments such as the UK government “approvingly cited” the report.
HRW revealed that it pressed the UK government, one of Manama’s closest allies, to hold Bahrain accountable for its mistreatment of minors in prison, but nothing has changed since.
A 14-year-old child named Jameel “Jameel”, was among the minors who suffered under Bahraini authorities.
“Jameel” said he was interrogated for allegedly taking part in the 14 February commemoration of the Bahraini Arab Spring protests and an officer “threatened to put him in a jail cell and let all the officers rape him”.
Just a day prior to the broadcast of the show, Bahraini media published videos from inside prisons in the kingdom in an attempt to showcase how prisoners enjoy full rights.
Earlier this year, Al Jazeera released another investigation as part of the “Out of Context” programme, which focused on a book by Nader Matrouk that delved into the torture of opposition prisoners in Bahrain’s Jau Central Prison in 2015.
The author of “Zafarat” said the book documented an uprising inside the prison through testimonies of detainees who complained of mistreatment and unsanitary living conditions.
Security forces reportedly fired tear gas in small rooms and assaulted prisoners even after the demonstration had ended, with some claiming physical and mental torture and others disappearing entirely.
Similarly, the MOI dismissed the findings of the show and tapped into the reported mistreatment of Manama’s fishermen by Doha’s coast guards – who were arrested at the time following several breaches into Qatar’s waters before and after the two countries signed the Al-Ula Declaration.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also sent a “note of protest” to the Qatari foreign ministry over the previous episode.
In February, a Bahraini official made the first diplomatic visit to Qatar since the blockade to deliver an official invitation for talks to resolve pending issues between the two Gulf states.
While the visit signalled a step towards officially restoring ties, recent developments suggest friction remains.
Bahrain was among a quartet that imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar in 2017. While the dispute came to an end with the signing of the Al Ula Declaration earlier this year, tensions between Manama and Doha have continued.
Bahrain has repeatedly breached Qatari territorial waters and airspace and has seized 130 properties reportedly belonging to relatives of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.