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Ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix new report says repression in country is still widespread

Protests have been banned in the capital Manama and violently broken up elsewhere © MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/GettyImages
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised country earlier this year
Teachers’ union official and former prisoner of conscience Jalila Salman in UK this Friday
Rampant human rights abuse abuses continue “unabated” in Bahrain four years after the uprisings that rocked the Gulf kingdom in 2011, said Amnesty International today (16 April).
Ahead of this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain, Amnesty has published a major new report on the country highlighting dozens of cases of detainees being brutally beaten, deprived of sleep and adequate food, burnt with cigarettes, sexually assaulted, being subject to electric shocks - including on the genitals - and burnt with an iron. One was raped by having a plastic pipe inserted into his anus. The report shows that torture, arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force against peaceful activists and government critics are widespread in Bahrain.
The 76-page report, Behind the Rhetoric: Human rights abuses in Bahrain continue unabated, shows that the Bahraini authorities have failed to end repression despite repeated assurances to their Western allies that they are truly committed to human rights. Earlier this year the UK’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised Bahrain as a country “travelling in the right direction”. Shortly after Mr Hammond’s comments the leading Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison for an “insulting” tweet, and Mr Rajab was arrested again earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Jalila Salman, a prominent Bahraini teacher jailed for her part in the country’s protest movement, is visiting the UK this week. Amnesty is calling on the international community - in particular the UK, US and EU governments - to exert pressure on Bahrain to improve its human rights record.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said: 
“As the world’s eyes fall on Bahrain during the Grand Prix this weekend, few will realise that the international image the authorities have attempted to project of the country as a progressive reformist state committed to human rights masks a far more sinister truth.
“Four years on from the uprising, repression is widespread and rampant abuses by the security forces continue. 
“The notion that Bahrain respects freedom of expression is pure fiction. 
“Where is the freedom in a country where peaceful activists, dissidents and opposition leaders are repeatedly rounded up and arbitrarily arrested simply for tweeting their opinions and reading a poem can get you thrown in jail?”

Crackdown on critics

Amnesty’s report shows how the Bahraini authorities have conducted a chilling crackdown on dissent, with peaceful activists and government critics rounded up and jailed. All public demonstrations in the capital Manama have been banned for nearly two years and protests outside the capital are regularly dispersed by security forces - often firing tear gas and birdshot pellets, resulting in cases of serious injuries or death. 
Arrested activists and political leaders typically face broad national security charges such as “inciting hatred against” the government, with the leader of the main opposition group al-Wefaq standing trial on this charge. Others have been detained under laws prohibiting insults or disrespect toward public officials and government institutions, flags and symbols. Nabeel Rajab and other prominent activists such as Zainab al-Khawaja are detained or already serving prison terms merely for posting comments on Twitter, or in one case for reading a poem at a religious festival.  
The authorities have also sought to strengthen “anti-terrorism” legislation in the face of increasing violence against the security forces, and expanded their powers to revoke the nationality of anyone considered to be a government opponent. A failure to deliver on government reform promises has led to rising tensions in Bahrain with protests, recurring bouts of street violence and an increase in attacks on police officers. Meanwhile, access to the country for international human rights organisations and journalists has been tightened in what appears to be a concerted effort to limit scrutiny of Bahrain’s human rights record. 

Children among victims of violent security forces

A 17-year-old boy told Amnesty how he was struck on the right side of his face by a tear gas canister which tore his flesh and broke his jaw as he was chased by security forces as they dispersed a procession in December 2014. He said the officer who arrested him placed his foot on his head and said: “I will kill you today”. The officers who then took him to hospital mocked him and left him screaming in pain for half an hour before he fell unconscious. He was later released without charge only to be re-arrested during a police raid at a later date.
Other detained protesters have described being brutally beaten, tortured and threatened to force them into “confessions”. One said he had been struck with the claw of a hammer on several parts of his body. Those held in pre-trial detention are also routinely tortured in order to extract “confessions”. 

Failed reforms

Despite a series of legal reforms based on the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry - a body established to investigate the government’s heavy-handed clampdown on the 2011 protests - most of the measures have had little impact in practice. In line with BICI’s recommendations, new institutions such as the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior and the Special Investigation Unit have been set up for oversight and to investigate human rights violations by the security forces. However, none are sufficiently independent, impartial or transparent. Legal reforms introduced to lift restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly have come hand in hand with moves to strengthen and maintain repressive laws. 

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Behind the Rhetoric: Human rights abuses in Bahrain continue unabated