Bahrain Feature: Inside the Appeals Court --- A Tale of "Secret Sources" and Justice Repeatedly Delayed for Younis Ashoori
A "Free Younis Ashoori" poster on a wall in Bahrain
This morning, 61-year-old hospital administrator Younis Ashoori returns to court for the 11th time since February in a drawn-out appeal process. Since EA wrote about his case a fortnight ago --- Bahrain 1st-Hand Special: The Coupled Suffering of Younis and Amina Ashoori --- Younis has been in court twice.
Last year, Younis was arrested, abused, and sentenced before a military court. He was charged with transporting oxygen in an ambulance to the site of a protest at the Financial Harbour, for which he received a three-year sentence. The charge was based upon documents he signed under duress whilst blindfolded. He was also charged with replacing pictures of the Bahrain royal family with Shia symbols and inciting hatred against the regime. Unlike most of the other detained health professionals, and despite his age, ill-health and mistreatment, Younis was not granted bail.
EA has now been shown copies of court transcripts from Younis's appeal hearings. They raise questions about why he has remained behind bars so long and about the quality of justice meted out to victims of last year's military tribunals. The prosecution's single witness against Younis is an investigating officer whose evidence was gathered from "secret sources" from which "no records were noted down". Conversely, six defense witnesses offer strong support for Younis's innocence, reinforcing his own testimony.
A final verdict in the case had been expected last month. However, the appeal has been continually adjourned due to the repeated failure of the Ministries of Health and Interior to provide the voice recordings from the ambulance dispatch on the day Younis is accused of transporting the oxygen.
Extracts from the appeal hearings:
19 February 2012
A request was made for Younis to be released on both medical grounds --- he suffers from kidney problems which a doctor had told him require surgery --- and his mistreatment since his arrest. The mistreatment includes the fact he was: "tortured during interrogation", "kicked in his kidney," "tortured every night", "forced to confess" and "police threatened they would rape his wife and son". The request was denied.
11 April 2012
The prosecution's sole witness, Criminal Evidence Officer Mubarak Abdulla Jaber Hwail ElMerri, is questioned by Younis's lawyer Mohammed AlJeshi.
The witness is first asked about the nature of his investigations:
Q (by Defense): When did you start your investigations about the incident in question?
A: I don't remember when I started but the investigations were sufficient enough about the accused. They were through secret sources and informers.
Q: How long did the investigations last?
A: I don't remember.
Q: What is the nature of the investigations that you have made?
A: Investigations were made through secret informers who used to bring information about the events that took place in Bahrain.
Q: Did you note down any records of the information received from the secret sources?
A: No records were noted down for the secret sources.
Q: Have you been to Muharraq Maternity Hospital?
The witness is asked about his statements that Younis - who never attended any opposition protests last year and is married to a Sunni - was opposed to the regime on sectarian grounds:
Q: You have mentioned to the prosecution that the accused harbored severe hatred for the regime in Bahrain. How did you reach to this conclusion?
A: The pictures that the accused removed from the hospital, which were pictures of The King and The Prime Minister, and replaced by pictures of Hassan Nasrallah [Leader of Hezbollah] and Isa Qassim [Spiritual leader of the Bahrain opposition party AlWefaq]. This action reflects his hatred of the regime.
Q: Where were the Kingdom's pictures?
A: They were hung on the wall inside the hospital.
Q: What would you comment on the conclusion of Lt. AbdulRahman Hamad Ghanem [...] that after inspection of many offices no pictures of Shiite figures were found?
A: This is not my business, and the Officer who did the inspection can be asked about his statements.
Note: Younis's personal testimony states: "All employees at the Muharraq Maternity Hospital very well acknowledge that there were no portraits for our leadership at the administration, lounge room and other places to start with, making it impossible for me to remove them and replace them with pictures of religious symbols. I would also like to mention that there are no traces of nails, in which the above-mentioned pictures were hanged.
The witness is asked about the claim in his statement that Younis ordered nurses to take oxygen cylinders from Muharraq Maternity Hospital (where he works as an administrator) to the Financial Harbour.
Q: Would you specify the names of the nurses who were ordered by the accused? A: I don't know their names. (...)
Q: Did the witness do any investigations about the nurses or their names?
Q: Who asked the accused to take the cylinders out?
A: I don't remember.
Q: How did the accused transfer the cylinders to the Financial Harbor?
A: The accused transferred the cylinders by one of the ambulances.
Q: Through his investigations, was the witness able to obtain the ambulance number or driver's name?
A: I didn't know that.
Q: How did you get to know that the cylinders reached the Financial Harbor?
A: The secret sources informed us.
Q: Who received the cylinders in the Financial Harbor?
A: It was the protesters in the Financial Harbor who received the cylinders.
Q: Did you get to know the cylinders numbers?
A: There were 15 cylinders, but I don't know their numbers.
Note: earlier in the questioning, the witness accused Younis of transporting only "10 gas cylinders to instigate problems in the Financial Harbor".
9 May 2012
Six defence witnesses, all health professionals who work at either Muharraq Maternity Hospital, Salminaya Medical Complex, or the Ministry of Health are questioned by Younis's defence lawyer.
The alleged oxygen cylinder smuggling took place at a time of escalating crackdown against the Bahrain opposition, with many injuries. The Salminaya Medical Complex had implemented a disaster plan to deal with the situation. Oxygen was in great demand to treat citizens, especially in cases of suffocation caused by the high use of tear gas. Salminaya sought stocks of oxygen from hospitals and health centres across the country to help manage the crisis. Younis is ostensibly charged with loading an ambulance with oxygen cylinders and having it deliver them to protesters at Bahrain Financial Harbour. The six witnesses suggest that the reality is that Salmaniya disaster center requested oxygen cylinders from Muharraq Maternity Hospital because they were needed to supply the medical tent which had been set up by medics in Salmaniya to treat injured protesters. They also seem to confirm that Younis played a minor role in this.
Witness 1 (works at Muharraq):
Q: What is your information about the incident?
A: On 13/3/2011 I was on duty in the hospital. I received a call from Salmaniya Hospital demanding the transfer of oxygen cylinders to Salmaniya Hospital, and then after that I informed the appellant. He asked me to wait until he ascertains the matter, then we started to gather the cylinders, then [the female security supervisor] came with the security. Cylinders were taken out by the ambulance.
Q: Was the Appellant present during the transfer of the cylinders?
Q: Did the Appellant direct orders to take the cylinders out?>P?
Witness 2 (works at Salminya):
Q: What is your information about the incident?
A: I requested Muharraq to provide gas cylinders for the preparation of the medical tent in Salmaniya Hospital. Cylinders arrived at the desire of the Disaster Center and were transferred by ambulance.
Q: Who ordered Muharraq Hospital to send the cylinders to Salmaniya?
A: The Disaster Center of the Salmaniya Medical Complex.
Witness 3 (works in the security section of the Ministry of Health)
Q: What is your information about the incident?
A: On 13/3/2011, I was given an order by the service supervisor (female) to transfer material to Salmaniya Hospital, they were 13 gas cylinders. A form was signed and Salmaniya Hospital was supplied with the cylinders. The form is in the file.
Q: Who was present during the loading of cylinders to Salmaniya Hospital?
A: The aforementioned service supervisor, some nurses and ambulance drivers.
Q: Was the Appellant present?
Q: Was there any written order to transfer cylinders to Salmaneya?
A: There was an order from the service supervisor.
Q: Did you receive any order from the Appellant to transfer the cylinders?
Witness 5 (works in the Ambulance service at Salmaniya Medical Complex)
Q: What is your relationship with the Appellant?
A: I don't know him, but on 13/3/2011 [the ambulance supervisor] asked us to go to Muharraq Hospital to receive oxygen. Security there said that cylinders are being prepared. We went to the Maternity Hospital and met with the service supervisor (female) and the security. We received the cylinders. When we went to Salmaniya we were told to go to the roundabout to deliver the cylinders to the medical tent there.
Q: Who was there during the receipt of the cylinders in the Maternity Hospital?
A: There was the supervisor and the security, but the Appellant was not present. Q: How many cylinders were transferred?
A: Between 9 to 12.
Q: Did you receive a call to transfer the cylinders?
Q: Who was with you on that day?
A: [Witness 6]
Q: Who received the cylinders in the roundabout?
A: Some nurses from Salmaniya.
Q: Who ordered you to transfer the cylinders from Salmaneya to the roundabout?
A: A person named Mohamed AbdlulRahim [the ambulance supervisor] called [my colleague] and told him to transfer the cylinders.
Witness 6 (works with Witness 5 at Salminaya)
Q: What is your information?
A: On 13/3/2011 Mohamed AbdulRahim [the ambulance supervisor] sent me to Kano Hospital to bring cylinders, then he sent me to the Maternity Hospital. We took the cylinders from there. When we arrived to Salmaniya Hospital he ordered me to go the roundabout with the cylinders. We delivered them to the roundabout and I don't know who received them there.
Q: Who was present upon receiving the cylinders?
A: I don't know them but there was a supervisor (female), nurses and security personnel, but the Appellant was not there.
Younis says in his testimony:
During my investigation, I was told that the ambulance made its way to the financial harbor in order to rescue those who were wounded and injured by tear gas, even though the only people responsible for the movement of ambulances include those in the command center, Mr. Mohamed Abdulrahim, the ambulance supervisor and all the stations and call centers, of which there are records of, but my duty lies within the borders of the Muharraq Maternity Hospital only.
The 9 May hearing ended with a request by the judge for the Ministries of Health and Interior to provide voice recordings of the orders given to the ambulance.
There followed hearings on 10 June, 17 June, 1 July, 11 July, 18 July, and 25 July, all ostensibly adjourned because the voice recordings hadn't been provided. All the while, Younis, who suffers badly with kidney stones, migraines and an enlarged prostate, has remained behind bars.
EA understands that the judge now has the voice recordings. The question Younis's family is asking: will another excuse be found to delay the trial further?