Bahrain Watch is gravely concerned about the cases of two high profile Bahraini activists, one of them a recognised torture survivor, who were imprisoned upon their arrival in the UK after attempting to claim political asylum over the past month. After fleeing Bahrain and claiming asylum at UK airports upon entry, Hussain Mohamed Jawad and Mohammed Hassan Ahmed [details below] were placed in the Detained Fast Track (DFT) process and spent 2 and 5 days respectively in detention and under threat of return to torture and unfair trials in Bahrain.
The DFT is designed for uncomplicated cases in which “a quick decision may be made”. As all applicants are detained, the expectation is that they will be quickly returned to their country of origin. Asylum is refused in 99% of DFT applications at the initial decision stage. Asylum decisions are made very quickly – within 3 days – leaving applicants little time to prepare, and facing asylum interviews whilst detained.
Following emergency legal challenges, both activists were released from detention and from the DFT process. However, Bahrain Watch is gravely concerned that others may face a similar fate in the future. A third activist may currently also be in detention.
The fact that two cases occurred within a week of each other has raised concerns amongst Bahraini human rights activists and immigration experts that UK policy towards Bahrain may have changed. Until now, it is estimated that as many as 150 Bahrainis have sought asylum in the UK since the 2011 uprising began without being subjected to the DFT process.
Dan Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, who represented both activists said:
“These two Bahraini activists came to the UK fleeing torture and flagrantly unfair criminal trials. In allocating them to the Detained Fast Track process, the Home Office was not only falsely imprisoning them, it was placing them at real risk of a prejudiced asylum claim and a return to torture and an unfair trial. On no sensible view were their cases straightforward ones suitable for this process. I am ashamed that this is how the UK welcomes brave Bahraini pro-democracy activists. This policy must change.”
The two activists claim that during their stay in Harmondsworth and Colbroke immigration removal centres:
The prison administration did not provide them with a single phone call during the entire period of imprisonment;
They were not given access to personal belongings, other than the clothes they arrived in;
The detention procedure was not explained in any clear way and they were made to feel that deportation was imminent;
They were not granted legal representatives for their asylum claims under the rota system;
They were not informed about how they might obtain release from the DFT process; and
In one case, it took 12 hours for the detainee to be released once the Home Office had approved the release.
According to their legal representative, they should not have been detained because:
The asylum claims of both activists were prima facie meritorious – detention is only appropriate where there is an imminent prospect of removal;
One activist was a survivor of torture (he has been subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, positional torture, temperature manipulation, prolonged handcuffing, and solitary confinement by the Bahraini authorities). He required time to gather relevant corroborative evidence, time that the DFT process does not allow;
They both had a clearly recorded history of persecution in Bahrain for their pro-democracy activities, including multiple arrests and detention;
They both faced a real risk of return to a flagrantly unfair trial with the prospect of the revival of charges against them and their co-activists.
Mohammed Hassan is a prominent blogger and media fixer who writes under the pseudonym ‘SafyBH’. He was arrested and tortured in August 2013, and arrested and beaten in April 2012 whilst working with a journalist from the Sunday Telegraph. Mohammed Hassan had been regularly harassed by Bahrain security forces for his online activism. Mohammed was arrested and tortured in 2012 and more recently in July 2013. Over 50 bloggers worldwide demanded the release of Mohammed Hassan during his arbitrary detention in Bahrain.
Mohammed Hassan said, “The whole process from the beginning was not clear, no information was given to me about the process. I was caught by surprise and found myself in a position that required me to do a lot in a very constrained environment and in a very limited period of time. This made it hard for me to explain the situation to anybody. Fleeing from persecution from my own repressive country, I did not expect this to happen in the UK.”
Hussain Jawad is the Chairman of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights. He was arrested in November 2013 whilst attempting to lodge a complaint concerning the harassment of human rights defenders. He was released on bail on January 9th 2014.
Hussain Jawad said, “I was extremely distressed. I didn’t know why I was there and didn’t expect to be imprisoned upon arrival. The prison conditions were bad, shared toilets were exposed, there was no sense of security or safety in the prison.”
Bahrain Watch calls on the Home Office to clarify whether the policies governing allocation to the fast track have been altered in any way as regards Bahrain, and whether the country of origin of applicants plays any role in allocation to the DFT. It calls on it to provide further guidance to UKBA caseworkers to ensure that human rights activists are not treated in this unfair manner again upon arrival in the UK.