New report says Bahrain's human rights crisis not over

By agency reporter
17 Apr 2012

The Bahraini government’s response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry has proved inadequate as human rights violations continue, Amnesty International has said in a new report on Bahrain today (17 April)

The 58-page report, Flawed Reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters, reveals that piecemeal reforms have failed to provide justice for the victims of human rights violations despite the government’s insistence that it will learn from the events of February and March 2011. Following the November report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), Amnesty has found that despite some institutional and other reforms, the government's overall response has been inadequate.

The respected human rights NGO is calling on the Bahraini government to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and to ensure that those suspected of torturing and killing, including those with command responsibility, are held accountable.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said: “With the world’s eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no-one should be under any illusions that the country’s human rights crisis is over.

“The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests. Their reforms have only scratched the surface.

“The government's huge financial investment in international experts to help them reform will go to waste unless it shows real political will to take difficult decisions - in particular, holding to account senior members of the security forces accused of violations, releasing prisoners of conscience and addressing the underlying discrimination against the Shi’a majority population.

“The establishment of the BICI was a real breakthrough and raised expectations that things would be different in Bahrain. It is time for the Bahraini government to match its public pronouncements with genuine actions.”

The government pledged to hold to account members of the security forces responsible for violations against protesters and created a special office to do so. But this office lacks independence and impartiality, says Amnesty, and only a handful of low-ranking security and police officers have been put on trial. Meanwhile, no senior members of the security forces, including the National Security Agency and Bahrain Defence Force, have been held to account.

A number of security officers accused of being responsible for torture during last year’s protests are believed to still be in their posts without having been investigated. Eight policemen, including two Bahraini nationals, known to have been charged in connection with deaths during protests, have not been suspended and are reported to have remained in their roles at the Ministry of Interior while the case proceeds.

Scores of prisoners, tried unfairly in military courts and sentenced to long-term prison sentences, have not been released, even though they were convicted solely for leading and participating in anti-government protests without using or advocating violence.

The cases achieving most prominence involve the 14 opposition members arrested last March and April. The verdict in their appeal case is expected to be heard on 23 April. Several of the men have reported being tortured following their arrest.

Charges against the men included “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime”. Some of the prisoners publicly called for an end to the monarchy and its replacement with a republican system. They have not used or advocated violence. One of the men, human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has been on hunger strike for more than two months in protest at his unfair imprisonment and Amnesty understands his physical condition is now critical.

Meanwhile, in December, Bahrain’s Public Prosecutor ordered that all charges related to freedom of expression should be dropped. But very few detainees have benefited from this measure since the vast majority of people detained were charged with several offences, including “participation in an illegal gathering of more than five people”.

Despite a series of recent institutional changes, the behaviour of Bahrain’s security forces remains largely unchanged. Although the security forces have reduced the use of shotguns since late 2011, they continue to respond to protests with excessive force - particularly with tear gas, which has resulted in several deaths in recent months. In total, at least 60 people have now been killed in connection with protests since February 2011. Amnesty recognises that the Bahraini security forces sometimes face groups behaving violently - including the throwing of Molotov cocktails at them or their vehicles - but they must respect international human rights law and standards.

One case highlighted in Amnesty’s report is that of Fadhel Mirza al-Obeidi, a 22-year-old man from al-Deraz village, west of Manama, who died after being hit on the head with a tear gas canister on 3 March this year. On that day he was carrying a Bahraini flag at the front of a large anti-government march in al-Deraz when riot police opened fire with tear gas. One eyewitness told Amnesty that after al-Obeidi fell to the ground three security men beat him with batons. He was bleeding profusely and lost consciousness; he died in hospital on 10 March. Meanwhile, in recent months a 14-year-old boy and an 81-year-old woman have both died after the security forces fired tear gas into their homes.

Amnesty has received reports that, at the same time as police reforms are being introduced with much fanfare in Bahrain, detainees are still facing torture and ill-treatment in unofficial detention places, including unused government buildings, police vehicles and in open areas.

For example, an 18-year-old student, Hassan ‘Oun, was arrested by policemen in civilian clothes on 3 January in the ‘Arad district and taken to the Samaheej police station where he was interrogated. Hassan’s family told Amnesty that when his lawyer saw him the next day at the Public Prosecutor’s Office he saw signs of torture on his body and that his leg was swollen. Hassan ‘Oun told his lawyer that at the police station he was forced to stand for some 11 hours and that he was beaten on his feet with a hosepipe and threatened with rape.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office detained Hassan ‘Oun for 45 days pending investigation and have since charged him with illegal public gathering. He was previously detained in connection with anti-government protests in 2011.

Read the report Flawed Reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters here http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_22492.pdf

[Ekk/4]

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