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Bahrain launches investigation into leaked video showing 'sectarian' police abuse

A video purportedly showing police prisoner abuse has gained thousands of views in Bahrain prompting a government investigation
Bahrain has been swamped by pro-democracy protests since an uprising erupted in February 2011 (AFP)

Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) has launched an investigation into a video posted online allegedly showing the mistreatment of a Shiite prisoner, it announced via its official Twitter account on Tuesday.

Activists have said the video provides evidence of sectarianism among Bahrain’s police force.

“Almost 100 percent of political prisoners are Shiite in Bahrain and nearly 100 percent of the police are Sunni,” said a prominent human rights activist, who spoke to the Middle East Eye by phone and asked to remain anonymous for fear of arrest.

“This video is the result of having institutions made up of one sect, which means more than half the country is not represented.”

The 1 minute 32 second video was posted on Monday to a YouTube account linked to the island’s pro-democracy movement and has been viewed more than 70,000 times in less than 24 hours.

In the video, an unnamed and unknown male prisoner is shown handcuffed with his face covered. He is accompanied by at least three police officers in a vehicle.

Activists told MEE they believed the prisoner to be Shiite because of a reference to a temporary marriage agreement exlusive to Shiite Islam known as Nikah al-Mut'ah.

One of the police officers questions the prisoner and asks if he can marry the detainee’s sister under Nikah al-Mut'ah.

“The prisoner said yes as logically – if you say no – then you will be beaten,” said Said Yousif, head of monitoring at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR). The BCHR is presided over by prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. 

The police officer then says to the Shiite detainee “even a Sunni?” when asking who can take part in the temporary marriage – a custom often viewed as a “cover for promiscuity” according to The Economist.

The prisoner does not reply and then the officer is seen to beat him, while repeatedly shouting “don’t say Sunni.”

“The police officers are deliberately humiliating and insulting the prisoner along sectarian lines,” said Yousif. “At the end of the video the officer says ‘I’m going to fuck you all’ and by that he means the Shiites.”

Authorities have been regularly accused of dividing the country along sectarian lines, an accusation they have repeatedly denied.

On Tuesday the MOI used Twitter to announce its investigation into the video, which it said “shows maltreatment of a detainee, adding that “initial details indicate the incident occurred in 2011”.

Videos purporting to show police abuse have been periodically leaked in Bahrain since 2011, when pro-democracy protests erupted before being put down by security forces leading to the deaths of scores of activists.

Authorities have accused protesters of being violent – a number of police officers have been killed in sporadic attacks – and say the opposition are backed by Shiite Iran, although no specific evidence has been published to back this up.

Bahraini activist Yousif said he had little faith in the MOI’s investigation into this latest leaked video.

“Lots of people have been tortured and killed – and many videos have been leaked – and then investigations have been launched,” he said. “But there have never been any results.”

“Even if the case came to court the judiciary is not independent and justice will not be served,” Yousid added.

A 64-page report released by New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch in May this year said Bahrain’s justice system “fails to deliver basic accountability and impartial justice”.

“Bahrain’s problem is not a dysfunctional justice system, but rather a highly functional injustice system,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said.

The Bahraini human rights activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said the government is ultimately responsible for police officers allegedly abusing prisoners.

“This latest video is only a small example of what the Shiite people face with the security institution in Bahrain,” they said. “It’s not about the guy who committed the torture directly, the crime is being done by authorities who have created a culture of hatred against religious groups.”

“We won’t solve this until the military and security institutions represent the Bahraini nation by including all religious groups.”