Children in Bahrain have been tortured and threatened with rape by authorities as part of an ongoing crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, lobbyists said on Sunday.
Amnesty International said scores of children, some as young as 13 years old, had been arrested on suspicion of taking part in protests over the last two years, and had been blindfolded, beaten and tortured while detained.
It said others had been threatened with rape in order to extract forced confessions.
“By rounding up suspected under-age offenders and locking them up, Bahrain’s authorities are displaying an appalling disregard for its international human rights obligations,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme.
“Nearly three years after Bahrain’s security forces used excessive force to crush anti-government protests, they now appear to be targeting children in an intensified crackdown. All children under the age of 18 who have not committed any recognisable offence must be released immediately. Any allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be thoroughly investigated,” he added.
Amnesty said that according to reports it had received, at least 110 children aged between 16 and 18 were currently being held at Dry Dock Prison, an adult penal facility on Al Muharraq Island, pending investigation or trial.
It said that most of these had been arrested on suspicion of participating in “illegal gatherings”, rioting, burning tyres or throwing Molotov cocktail explosives at police. Amnesty said that several had been denied access to their families and interrogated without the presence of a lawyer.
Detainees under 15 years old are held at the Ministry of Interior’s Juvenile Centre in the capital Manama, where Amnesty said most abuses take place at night when social workers are absent. Upon reaching 15, detainees are transferred to adult facilities to serve out the remainder of their sentence.
Amnesty highlighted that Bahrain is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, which defines a juvenile as anyone under 18 years old. It also prohibits torture or use of any other inhuman punishment.
The group called on the government to review its legislation regarding juveniles so that they fall in line with international standards.
“Bahrain’s government purports to respect human rights yet it is brazenly flouting international obligations on a routine basis by resorting to extreme measures such as imposing harsh prison sentences on children,” Boumedouha continued.
Mass unrest began in Bahrain in early 2011, and it is believed that at least 2,000 people suspected in taking part in demonstrations are currently in jail on the island.