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Briefing: Bahrain

Amnesty international UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“David Cameron’s meeting with King Hamad Al-Khalifa today is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to make it clear that Bahrain still has lot to do to repair the damage of its crackdown on the protests this year. There should be no death sentences and no ‘revenge’ convictions. Bahrain’s human rights record is still heavily tarnished.”

As Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa visited the UK, Amnesty International issued the following summary of its human rights concerns on the country.

Last month the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a comprehensive independent report by international experts into the response to protests in Bahrain earlier this year, criticised the use of torture and “excessive force” by Bahrain’s security forces. The pattern of abuse documented by the BICI - including mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, widespread torture in detention and dozens of flawed military trials of activists and professionals - was also documented by Amnesty throughout the year.

The inquiry, established by a 29 June royal decree, gathered some 9,000 testimonies and interviewed some 5,000 people about abuses during and after the pro-reform protests of February and March. Hundreds of cases were covered in the report, including beatings of protesters by security forces, mass arbitrary arrests of mainly Shi’a opposition activists and widespread torture, with five deaths resulting from torture in custody. In all, at least 35 people have died in connection with the protests, including five security personnel.

Amnesty welcomed the report, with its Acting Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther saying: "The King's appointment of the BICI was a landmark development, as the commission’s findings and recommendations testify. The true test now will be the speed, extent and seriousness with which the government follows through on the BICI's recommendations.”

Prison sentences against protesters in Bahrain are still being upheld by the courts. For example on 24 November, the day after the BICI report was published, Bahrain's High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld six-month prison sentences against 14 people convicted of, among other things, taking part in an "illegal gathering". Amnesty believes they may be prisoners of conscience. The 14 - nine Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, three girls, and two men - were convicted of taking part in an "illegal gathering of more than five persons", “incitement to hatred of the regime”, "assaulting policeWomen's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights" and “participating in illegal marches”. All 14 had been part of a larger group of 46 people who were arrested, mostly in Manama’s City Center Mall, for attempting to march toward the Gulf Cooperation Council Roundabout (better known as the Pearl Roundabout) on 23 September. The Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls were not allowed access to lawyers before they appeared in court. All of those sentenced denied committing or planning to commit any act of violence.

Bahrain’s military courts, which were widely used to try civilians following the February-March protests, have passed death sentences. For example, ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Hassan al-Sankis and ‘Abdulaziz ‘Abdulridha Ibrahim Hussain were sentenced to death on 28 April by a military court, the National Safety Court of First Instance, though they are civilians, after having been found guilty of killing two policemen during the protests. On 28 November their lawyer submitted a request for a re-trial on the basis of allegations of widespread torture and other ill-treatment used against all those detained in connection with the protests (as described in the BICI report). The two defendants alleged they were tortured in detention and that their “confessions” were used against them in court. The Court of Cassation’s verdict has been postponed until 9 January. If the sentences are upheld and then ratified by the King, the two men will be executed. Amnesty is calling for their execution not to be carried out and for a re-trial in a civilian court. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases.

Twenty health professionals, who were originally sentenced (on 29 September) to between five and 15 years by a military court in connection with their alleged role in the February-March protests, will have their appeal before a civilian court heard on 9 January. The 20 also continue to face other charges, including: "possession of unlicensed weapons", "occupation of a public building" (the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama), and "calling for the overthrow of the regime by force.

Amnesty is urging the Bahraini authorities to ensure that the appeal complies with international standards for fair trial (various irregularities have been alleged by their defence lawyers in earlier hearings) and is concerned that, if imprisoned, the defendants may be prisoners of conscience imprisoned solely on account of peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

The UK Government’s own figures show that the UK had, before the February-March protests, licensed equipment to Bahrain including tear gas, assault rifles and machine guns. There were numerous reports of the Bahraini security forces using excessive force against protesters, including live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. Amnesty welcomed an 18 February decision by the UK Government to revoke these licences, shortly after the organisation called for such a move. However, Amnesty said the government’s risk-assessment system had “been found wanting” over the issuing of the licences in the first place. 

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