Playing in the street with your friends could land you in a Bahraini jail, as sixth-grader Ali Hasan has discovered. Charged with taking part in an illegal gathering and allegedly blocking a road, the 11-year-old had spent a month in prison before being bailed out last week where he was allowed to take his final school exams.
Like many countries in the Gulf region, Bahrain has been experiencing civil unrest since February last year; clashes between antigovernment protesters and police have resulted in an estimated 50 deaths so far.
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Ali was arrested May 14, a day after demonstrations and fighting in the streets of his neighborhood outside the capital Manama. He has said that he was just playing with his two friends before being approached and reprimanded by a policeman. While his other friends managed to run away, Ali was too scared to move. He has spent a month in jail — where he took his final exams — and underwent a series of interrogations in which he was asked to identify others boys in the neighborhood.
Speaking of his experiences to the Guardian, he said: “I was crying all the time. I told them I’d confess to anything to go back home.”
“It’s like putting a bear in a box, I felt just like that.”
Authorities see the situation differently. The chief prosecutor for crimes comitted by people under 18, Noura Al-Khalifa, states that Ali was taking part in an “illegal gathering” with others. He said that Hasan had been caught blocking a street with garbage containers and wood planks, and that he was arrested on his third attempt to shut the road, according to the AFP.
Shahzalan Khamees, one of Ali’s lawyers, says the charges make no sense, telling reporters that the garbage container his client is accused of moving “is so heavy that you need two grown men to left it.”
Human rights organizations have rushed to Ali’s defense, concerned by what they see as a wider campaign against children by Bahrain’s authorities. Ali’s lawyer has said it is common for young children to be questioned by the police, though only teenagers tend to be detained.
Amnesty International expressed shock at the “jaw-dropping lack of respects for his rights” shown by “arresting an 11-year-old boy, interrogating him for hours without a lawyer before trying him on spurious charges.”
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The court announced Wednesday that it had adjourned Ali’s case and that it would deliver it’s verdict on July 5. The outlook is not promising: according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, three children have already received sentences of 15 years’ imprisonment.