A year after an eruption of protests in Bahrain, the ruling monarchy continues to commit serious human rights abuses against activists. Amnesty International has criticized the US and UK for ignoring the repression, and urged action.
In November 2011, a panel of human rights experts investigated the uprising in Bahrain and its aftermath and released the Bahraini Independent Commission of Enquiry (BICI) report. In June 2012, the panel sent a follow up unit to monitor Bahrain's progress in implementing the report’s recommendations. Amnesty International has found that human rights activists are being arrested and harassed at increasing rates.
“The establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and its report was considered to be a groundbreaking initiative, but a year on, the promise of meaningful reform has been betrayed by the government’s unwillingness to implement key recommendations around accountability,” the group reported.
The watchdog group said that the human rights situation in Bahrain has “markedly deteriorated” in recent months, and the country “risks sliding into protracted unrest and instability.”
The government’s failure to bring in promised reforms, recommended almost a year ago by the independent BICI panel, pose a serious threat to the small Gulf nation, which is deeply divided and is suffering from escalating violence, the reports said.
“We have found that actually the situation is much worse than it was months ago, it’s really deteriorating. We’re talking about at least 24 killed since BICI issued its report last year, a ban on all protests by the end of October and only a week ago a revocation of nationality of 31 opposition activists,” the author of the report, Covagonga de la Campa told RT.
The human rights watchdog also criticized the US and the UK for refusing to condemn human rights violations committed by their ally, and choosing instead to “satisfy themselves with the narrative of reform while ignoring the reality of repression.” Bahrain is the strategic home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Dozens of people have been killed in Bahrain since the Shia-led uprising began against the ruling Sunni monarchy in February 2011. Protestors are demanding an end to widespread discrimination against the country’s Shiite majority. Bahraini authorities blamed Shiite religious figures for fueling tensions in the country.
The BICI commission received complaints concerning the ‘mistreatment’ of 559 people in state custody. Forensic evidence in 59 of the complaints “was highly consistent with beatings and trauma.”
The commission also revealed that of the 35 people who died in protests between February and March 2011, 19 of the deaths were attributed to Bahraini security forces.
Since the BICI commission released its findings, there have been further cases of excessive force used against protestors during 2012, with an alarming increase in the use of shotguns since mid-2012, Amnesty said.
Amnesty International also criticized the Bahraini government for not properly investigating allegations of torture in cases where political prisoners were beaten and sexually harassed.
Thirteen opposition activists said they were beaten, sexually harassed, held in solitary confinement, forced to stand up for prolonged periods and made to sign false ‘confessions.’
Roula Jassim Mohammed-al Saffar was one of 20 health professionals sentenced to up to 15 years in prison in September 2011. She was acquitted of all charges on June 14, 2012.
She told Amnesty International delegates that while in detention, “A woman officer entered the room and started hitting me; she had an electric devise in each hand and hit me with it on both sides of my head. She cut my hair with scissors. Then they burned my hair on the sides. This continued for four or five days.”
“The commission is of the view that the lack of accountability of officials within the security system of Bahrain has led to a culture of impunity,” Amnesty reported.
The group also raised concerns about the detention, torture and ill treatment of children; as many as 80 children between the ages of 15 and 18 could be held in Bahrain’s adult prisons.
“The Bahraini government must immediately cease its campaign of persecution of human rights defenders in the country,” UN special rapporteur on human rights Margaret Sakaggya said on August 23, 2012.
Throughout 2012, human rights activists have been harassed, arrested and in some cases imprisoned for carrying out their work.
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) also reported being harassed on several occasions.
“[Rajab] was placed alone in a very small and dark room for one day where there was a dead animal, that he was almost naked with only a small piece of cloth covering his genitals,” the report said.
The government blames the violence committed by some protestors on the country’s bitter divisions, claiming that the protestors have been manipulated by foreign powers such as Iran.
The Amnesty report concludes that the introduction of the reform process is now “moribund” and that Bahrain “is in full scale repression,” and risks sliding into “protracted unrest and instability.”