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Bahrain: crackdown ahead of Grand Prix condemned

‘We are seeing nothing but crackdowns and token gestures to clean up the country’s image’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

As Bahrain steps into the global spotlight with the Grand Prix at the weekend, Amnesty International warned that last year’s repressive tactics around the Formula One race could be repeated this year.

Last year a protester was killed by the security forces during a mass campaign against the staging of the Grand Prix in Bahrain amid ongoing concerns about human rights abuses. The intensity of protests this year is expected to top last year’s demonstrations, with days of planned protests organised by political groups in Bahrain.

Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the main opposition bloc, announced a week of protests on 11 April under the slogan “democracy is our right”. On 14 April, hundreds of people peacefully took to the streets as part of a week of rallies organised by the group, and more demonstrations are scheduled for the rest of this week. The majority of protests in Bahrain are banned and forcibly dispersed, including by the security forces’ often reckless use of tear gas.

Activists are also reporting that a number of raids by plain-clothed security officers have occurred since protests began two weeks ago, resulting in at least 50 detentions.  Among them is Hussain Abdul Amir, who was taken from his home at 2am in Dar Kulaib on 3 April. His family received news on 12 April that he is being held at Dry Dock Prison.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“The authorities are trying to use the Grand Prix as a platform to show progress, with claims that the human rights situation has improved, whilst stepping up repression in order to ensure nothing disturbs their public image.

“Instead of responding to the uprising of February 2011, the last two years have seen continued killings, arbitrary arrests and alleged torture in Bahrain.

“We are seeing nothing but crackdowns and token gestures to clean up the country’s image.  Families wait for justice for their killed relatives, opposition leaders languish in jail, and Children's rights are detained and tried under the anti-terrorism law.

“The Bahraini government says the country is engaged in human rights reform. The onus is on them to demonstrate it. They should immediately release all prisoners of conscience, let demonstrators exercise their rights peacefully and allow unrestricted access to NGOs and journalists to monitor the situation around the Grand Prix.”

At least 72 people have been killed since protests broke out in February 2011.

Amnesty has adopted 20 individuals as prisoners of conscience - 14 have been in prison since they were arrested in 2011 and the rest were imprisoned in 2012.

At least 80 Children's rights are held in adult prisons in Bahrain for participating in protests.

Thirteen imprisoned opposition leaders, activists and prisoners of conscience lost their final court appeal this year and stand convicted of terrorism charges due to their role in the 2011 uprisings.

Of 96 official investigations of deaths in custody and during protests since 2011, 46 cases have been dismissed due to lack of evidence of a crime, or because the death was said to have been caused by “an act of legitimate self defence”. Seventeen police officers have been tried or are currently undergoing trials in cases related to the protests. Eight have been acquitted and six have been convicted and sentenced.

Salah Abbas Habib Ahmad Mousa, a 36-year old protestor, was shot dead by security forces during demonstrations at last year’s Grand Prix. Last week his family heard that a low-ranking policeman was charged with his killing on 8 April and a hearing is due to begin on 6 May. However, the victim’s family and their lawyer have been given no access to any details of the investigation and there are concerns that the move is designed to deflect criticism.

Two people died this February during demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the uprising after being shot by riot police.

In June 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was established by the country’s authorities to investigate abuses during the 2011 unrest. It issued its report in November 2011, finding the Bahraini government responsible for gross human rights violations. But at least 26 individuals have died in protests since the report was released.

According to the NGO Bahrain Watch, the Bahraini government has recently spent at least £21 million on public relations firms to improve its image.

Note to editors:
For other recent Amnesty International research on Bahrain, see:

‘Freedom has a price’: Two years after Bahrain’s uprising (14 February 2013):

‘Bahrain: reform shelved, repression unleashed’ (21 November 2012) br />  

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