Bahrain is 'making a mockery' of its reform promises

Bahrain is making a mockery of its promises to reform over human rights and now faces a stark choice between the rule of law or sliding into a downward spiral of repression and instability, Amnesty International has warned today (21 November), as it published a new report on the country.

The report also warns that Bahrain’s close allies - including the UK and the USA - can no longer insist that Bahrain is currently committed to meaningful reform.

Amnesty’s report, Bahrain: reform shelved, repression unleashed , comes ahead of the first anniversary of a landmark report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), established last year by the country’s authorities to investigate abuses during the 2011 anti-government protests.

The BICI report found that the Bahraini government had been responsible for gross human rights violations in its response to demonstrations in the country in 2011. It made a series of recommendations including calling on the authorities to bring to account those responsible for human rights abuses and to carry out independent investigations into allegations of torture and other violations.

Though the Bahraini government committed itself to implementing the BICI recommendations, Amnesty says the Bahraini authorities have actually responded with further repression, culminating last month in the banning of all rallies and gatherings and the stripping of Bahraini nationality from 31 opposition figures on 7 November.

Amnesty’s report documents widespread recent violations by the Bahraini security forces, including the use of unnecessary and excessive force against protesters, sometimes fatal. For example, 16-year-old Hussam al-Haddad died on 17 August in al-Muharraq, the day after he was shot by riot police. His family say he had gone to a nearby cafe while demonstrations were being staged in the area. A family member who was present said that after Al-Haddad was shot and, while he was on the ground, a riot police officer hit him with his rifle and kicked him. Al-Haddad was taken to the military hospital and then to Salmaniya Medical Complex. His family was informed of his death at 2am the next day. On 9 October Bahrain’s Special Investigation Unit determined that the policeman who shot at him was acting in self-defence after being attacked and the case was closed.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Children's rights aged between 15 and 18 have been held in adult prisons and detention centres in Bahrain during recent months - around 80 individuals according to lawyers and local human rights groups - and human rights defenders and activists denouncing such abuses have been repeatedly harassed, with some jailed. In an ominous move, on 7 November the Bahraini authorities stripped 31 opposition figures of their Bahraini nationality.  A Ministry of Interior statement indicated that the group, including politicians, activists and religious figures, had their nationality revoked because they had caused “damage to state security”.

Since the beginning of 2012, an increasing number of gatherings in Bahrain have reportedly involved participants throwing Molotov cocktails or blocking roads. According to the government, two policemen have died in recent weeks after having been reportedly attacked in riots. However, Amnesty stressed that the use of violence by protesters does not exonerate the authorities from their obligations to respect human rights.

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

“The scale and nature of the violations unleashed in Bahrain since the BICI made its recommendations are making a mockery of the reform process in the country.

“The authorities have reneged on their promises to pursue the path of reform. Any claim by the government that it is committed to the rule of law and to improving human rights sounds hollow, in the face of a moribund reform process.

“As the country is engulfed in entrenched unrest and instability looms, the international community, and especially Bahrain’s allies, have a duty to condemn what is happening in the country and to stop using the BICI report as a shield to avoid having to criticise the Bahraini authorities.”

  • Read report: Bahrain: reform shelved, repression unleashed (PDF)

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