Bahraini security forces have beaten children and threatened them with rape and electric shocks after detaining them in protest-related cases last month, the anniversary of a 2011 pro-democracy uprising, rights groups said on Wednesday.
A government spokesperson did not comment on the specifics of the accusations in reponse to a detailed Reuters' query. The spokesperson said in a statement Bahrain takes the protection of human rights "extremely seriously" and had a "zero-tolerance policy" towards mistreatment within the justice system.
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A joint statement by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said that around 13 children aged 11-17 were detained in early to mid-February as authorities tried to dissuade protesters from gathering to mark the 10th anniversary of the uprising.
"Five children, arrested on February 14-15, said that police from the station beat, insulted, and threatened them with electric shocks from a car battery," the statement said, quoting the children and their families.
"An officer hit a 13-year-old on his head and threatened to rape him, give him electric shocks, and beat his genitals."
The rights groups' statement said Bahraini police in some cases arrested children for allegedly burning tires or blocking a road on the day of their arrest. It said police also accused children of vandalism, planting a fake bomb and throwing petrol bombs in November 2020.
Four of the children remain in detention, including a 16-year-old with a serious medical condition, HRW and BIRD said.
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The Bahrain government spokesperson also said the Gulf Arab country's criminal justice system, when dealing with people under age 18, makes decisions based on considerations of "each individual child's best interests, as well as their rehabilitation and place in society".
Bahrain's U.S.-backed, Sunni Muslim monarchy suppressed the uprising, led mostly by members of the Shi'ite Muslim majority, by force in 2011 and cracked down hard on sporadic unrest and dissent afterwards. It was the only Gulf state to experience one of the "Arab Spring" uprisings a decade ago.
Mass trials followed and thousands of people were imprisoned and many others fled abroad. Bahrain has since seen sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces, who have been targeted by bomb attacks.
Rights groups including Amnesty International have criticised the kingdom’s lack of an independent judiciary and accused its security forces of committing torture and other forms of ill-treatment with impunity. The government denies the charges.