Bahrain: Human rights abuses continue despite reform pledges

17 April 2012

The Bahraini government's response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry have proved inadequate as human rights violations continue, Amnesty International said today.


The 58-page Flawed Reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters reveals that piecemeal reforms have failed to provide justice for victims of human rights violations, despite the government's insistence that it will learn from the events of February and March 2011. 


Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, 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 the use of excessive force against protesters. 


”Senior members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses must face justice. All prisoners of conscience should be released and the government must tackle the underlying discrimination against the Shi’a majority population." 


Following the November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) – sometimes known as the “Bassiouni Commission” - Amnesty International has found that despite some mild reforms, the government's overall response has been inadequate. 


Lack of accountability 

The government created a special office to investigate allegations against members of the security forces. But Amnesty International said that this office is not independent and only a handful of low-ranking security and police officers have been put on trial. 


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. 


Even the 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 remain in their roles at the Ministry of Interior while the case proceeds. 


Prisoners of conscience 

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. 


Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who formerly worked with Dublin based human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, has been on hunger strike for more than two months in protest at his unfair imprisonment. Amnesty International understands his physical condition is critical. 


Police abuses

Although the security forces have reduced the use of shotguns since late 2011, they continue to target protesters with unnecessary and excessive force - particularly tear gas, which has resulted in several deaths in recent months. At least 60 people have now been killed in connection with protests since February 2011. 


Amnesty International recognises that the Bahraini security forces sometimes face groups behaving violently, such as by throwing Molotov cocktails at them or their vehicles. But the security forces must respect international human rights law and standards. 


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


Eighteen year-old student Hassan ‘Oun was arrested by policemen in civilian clothes on 3 January and taken to the Samaheej police station where he was interrogated. 


Hassan’s family told Amnesty International that when his lawyer saw him the next day at the Public Prosecutor’s office he saw signs of torture on his body. Hassan ‘Oun told his lawyer that at the police station he was forced to stand up for about 11 hours and that he was beaten on his feet with a hosepipe and threatened with rape. 


Amnesty International 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. 


Read Flawed Reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters.


Join us now to call for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.


Listen to our Bahrain researcher Said Boumedouha on RTÉ's Morning Ireland talking about the situation in Bahrain.