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Arbitrary Detention

International human rights instruments, in particular article 9 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to personal liberty, meaning that no one shall be arbitrarily detained.

Detention, which, in itself, is not a violation of human rights and can be legitimate, becomes arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty is carried out in violation of fundamental rights and guarantees set forth in relevant international human rights instruments. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has defined several categories under which detention is arbitrary:

  • When it is impossible to invoke any  legal  basis for the deprivation of liberty (as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his sentence or despite an amnesty law applicable to him/her);
  • When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by the UDHR and the ICCPR, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association;
  • When international norms relating to the right to a fair trial have been totally or partially violated, for example if the person has been imprisoned without charge or denied access to a lawyer;
  • When the deprivation of liberty is based on discriminatory grounds such as, amongst others, on ethnic origin, religion, political or other opinion or gender.

In the Arab world, thousands of individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention. Victims are usually denied their fundamental rights from the onset of the detention: arrest without a warrant; incommunicado detention with the denial of access to family and lawyer; prolonged periods of custody, during which the person is tortured in order to extract confessions; and speedy trials before tribunals that lack independence or exceptional courts.

Arab governments often arrest and prosecute all dissenting voices, such as those of human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and peaceful demonstrators in retaliation for peacefully making use of their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Simultaneously, thousands of ordinary citizens are also victims of arbitrary detention when they are denied their fair trial rights. 

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On 14 February 2017, on the sixth anniversary of the 2011 popular uprising in Bahrain, a number of protests were held all over the country including in the village of Samaheej, north eastern Bahrain, where mass arrests were conducted by the riot police. Among those arrested was 16-year-old Abbas Aoun Faraj, commonly known as Abbas Aoun, who had not taken part in the protests and who was a few meters from his house when the riot police violently apprehended him.

On 12 April 2014, Jaber Al Amri was arrested by officers of Al Mabahith in both uniform and civilian clothing who did not present him with a warrant. After being detained for three months incommunicado and having been deprived of his fundamental rights for a year, Jaber Al Amri was sentenced in May 2015 to seven years in prison followed by a seven-year travel ban and a fine of 50000 Riyals for posting a video on Youtube in which he calls for the release of his brother from prison.

(14 February 2017) Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a prominent Sudanese human rights defender, has been unlawfully detained for over two months, held by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) at Khartoum’s Kober Prison without charge or access to legal representation, 39 human rights groups and activists said.

Bahraini authorities have reached a new low in the arrest and torture of a young man suffering from intellectual disabilities. On 13 December 2017, 18-year-old Kumail Hamida was arrested from his home in the village of Al Sanabis at 4:30 am by masked men in civilian clothing, held incommunicado for three days and subjected to torture to force him to confess to the charges of “participating in demonstrations” and “filming protests”. Kumail was also forced to sign written statements despite the fact that he is unable to read or write.

On 6 November 2016, Imad Abou Rizk, a 44-year-old sergeant in the Palestinian General Intelligence, was summoned to the investigation office of the General Intelligence in Ramallah and subsequently arrested and severely tortured.

On 29 September 2016, Fadhel Abbas Radhi, also known as Fadhel Abbas, was arrested from his home in Hamad town, at night, by officers of the Special Security Command, also known as the riot police. Since his arrest, Fadhel Abbas has been denied visits by his family and access to his lawyer. He is still reportedly detained at the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) building, infamous for the large number of cases of torture reported, and has still not been presented before a judicial authority.

On 5 and 6 December 2016, five young men from the town of Bani Jamrah in north-western Bahrain were arrested from their homes by masked men in civilian clothing between 2 and 6 am. The men, including two minors, were repeatedly beaten all over their body, shackled and forced to stand up for two whole days before being forced to confess to the charge of “participating in demonstrations”.

On 25 January 2017, Alkarama alerted the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) of the abduction of seven students – ranging from 16 to 22 years old – by the State Security between October 2016 and January 2017. Despite their families’ numerous attempts to clarify their fate and whereabouts, the authorities continue to deny their detention.

On 24 January 2017, Alkarama solicited the Special Rapporteur on torture (SRT) on behalf of the Sudanese opposition activists Elwaleed Imam Taha and Elgassim Mohamed Sid-Ahmad, who are currently detained in Al Ha’ir Prison, Saudi Arabia, but fear imminent extradition to Sudan, where they are at high risk of being subjected to torture and prosecuted for making use of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

On 17 December 2015, Qatari citizen Mohammad Meshab was arrested by the state security forces without a warrant and detained in prolonged solitary confinement until August 2016. Currently on trial, hearings are not being held in public and the principle of presumption of innocence has been violated.