One Year After Start of Bahrain Uprising And With More Protests Planned, Accountability for Abuses Remains a Distant Reality, Says Amnesty International

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February 13, 2012

One Year After Start of Bahrain Uprising And With More Protests Planned, Accountability for Abuses Remains a Distant Reality, Says Amnesty International

Thousands Expected to Defy Authorities to Take Part in Protests February 14, Marking First Anniversary of Uprising

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) -- The Bahraini government is far from delivering the human rights reforms that were recommended by an independent international commission, Amnesty International said today, as protesters prepared to mark the one year anniversary of the start of mass anti-government protests.

Amnesty International warned authorities not to use excessive force against protesters on February 14, when thousands of people, the vast majority from the Shi’a majority population, are expected to defy the authorities and take part in protests to mark the anniversary of the uprising.

Amnesty International said the government risked falling short of meeting its self-imposed deadline -- the end of February -- to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)’s recommendations.

The organization also called on the government to release all prisoners convicted or held solely for leading or participating in protests and to hold to account individuals responsible for serious human rights violations committed during the last year.

Among the hundreds rounded up and detained were Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, former leaders of the Bahrain Teacher’s Association (BTA), who were arrested in March and April 2011 after calling for a teachers’ strike to support protesters’ calls for reform. They report being subjected to torture and ill-treatment in detention. In September, a military court sentenced al-Salman to three years in prison and Dheeb to 10 years. Jalila was conditionally released pending her appeal hearing, but Mahdi remains in prison. The next appeal hearing of their conviction is scheduled for February 19.

Amnesty International calls on the Bahrain government to ensure that their appeal hearing meets international standards, including by ensuring that any evidence obtained through torture or duress IS not used against them. Further, if al-Salman and Dheeb were arrested because of their leadership of the Bahrain Teacher's Association and the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, they should be immediately and unconditionally released, and all charges against them should be dropped.

“Victims and families of victims of the serious human rights violations – torture, arbitrary detention and excessive use of force –are still waiting for justice,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

“The government has made a number of announcements of what it has done to improve the human rights situation, but the fact is that it has still not delivered in the most important areas. Only when we see prisoners of conscience being released and perpetrators, including those who gave orders, being brought to justice will we be able to judge whether this is more than a public relations exercise.”

The Obama Administration has stated that new U.S arms being sold to Bahrain cannot be used against protestors, but Amnesty International said verbal assurances were not enough.

Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International advocacy director in Washington for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “The Bahraini government has already shown a willingness to deploy military hardware -- even tanks -- against protestors. The Obama administration has yet to make public what is in the new round of arms sales to Bahrain. New U.S. arms sales to the Bahraini government must be subject to public scrutiny.”

The organization also called on the Bahrain authorities to lift all travel restrictions on foreign journalists and international human rights organizations.

Several journalists and human rights workers have been denied entry at Bahrain International Airport, and others have been refused visit visas. Many journalists had been planning to travel to Bahrain to cover the anniversary.

Amnesty International said it feared that the government wants to avoid international scrutiny, as mass demonstrations are expected.

There are fears that violence could erupt between protesters and security forces, who have routinely used excessive force to quell protests. In recent weeks, small-scale protests in Shi’a villages and in the outskirts of Manama have increasingly ended in violence, with both security forces and protesters blaming each other for the eruption of violence.

At least 35 people died during protests in February and March 2011, including five members of the security forces and three migrant workers. At least a further 20 have died since then in the context of ongoing protests and excessive use of force by the security forces.

Amnesty International said that since the end of June 2011 the government has taken some limited positive steps, including: the lifting of the state of emergency; the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry made up of five international experts; the release of some detainees; the transfer of all trials from military courts to civilian ones; and the reinstatement of hundreds of workers to their roles.

On November 23, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) submitted its report to the King and made detailed practical and legislative recommendations. The report confirmed that gross human rights violations had been carried out.

The King accepted the findings of the report and appointed a 19-person national commission, made up of mostly government supporters, to oversee the implementation process.

But Bahrainis have complained that the process of implementation is very slow and has not addressed the most important issues.

At the beginning of 2012 the government said that 48 people from the security forces had been investigated for their roles in suppressing protests. So far only eight policemen are known to have been brought to trial for human rights violations.

Very little information has been made public about how these investigations were carried out or their terms of reference.

Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment continue to be reported. Hassan ‘Oun, an 18-year-old student, was arrested on January 3. He told his lawyer that when he was initially held in a police station he was forced to stand for about 11 hours and that he had been beaten on his feet with a hose and threatened with rape.

More than 1,000 people dismissed from their positions during the unrest have still not been reinstated to their jobs, according to Bahraini trade unionists.

Many of those who have been allowed to go back to their jobs have been asked to sign statements that they would not protest again and were put under pressure to give up trade unionism activities, in addition to sometimes being asked to do different jobs and functions from their original ones.

The security forces have continued to use excessive force to deal with demonstrators. In particular, several protesters have died since the end of November as a direct or indirect result of the inappropriate use of tear gas. Teargas is being used even inside houses, when security forces enter suspects’ homes.

Sayyed Hashem Saeed, aged 15, was killed when a tear gas canister hit him at close range during the security forces’ response to a protest in Sitra, south of Manama, on December 31.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.