King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa of Bahrain offered praise to his government for making “significant progress” towards instituting reforms called for by an international commission, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), in a report detailing numerous human rights abuses including beatings and electric shocks.
After the BICI report was issued four months ago, the king created his own National Commission. According to state media, the National Commission has found that police have undergone retraining, video equipment is “being installed in interrogation cells” and riot police bases and the government has dropped charges against hundreds of those arrested in anti-government, pro-democratic protests that began in February 2011. The National Security Agency, which had been behind some of the worst detention practices, had been stripped of its power to make arrests in December and a number of cases that were to be tried in military tribunals have now been sent to civilian courts.
Activists Describe Ongoing Abuses and Torture
Opposition activists immediately countered that beatings and other brutalities, torture and imprisonment of political prisoners has continued. The National Commission’s report, says Bahrain Watch, is “self-congratulatory.” Indeed, no “high-level government official or security officer has yet been held accountable for any of the ongoing human rights violations,” founding member Bill Marczak said. All of the National Commission’s members were drawn from the Shura Council, the upper house of the Bahraini parliament whose members are all appointed by the king, notes Al Jazeera. Only 10 percent of the reforms called for by the BICI have been implemented, says Al Wefaq, the largest opposition political society in Bahrain; those reforms that have been enacted do little to address the serious human rights abuses that are ongoing in Bahrain.
The Los Angeles Times notes that the United Nations human rights office said that it is still “troubled” about reports from “reliable sources” concerning protesters dying from inhaling teargas. Said Boumedouha, a researcher at Amnesty International, emphasizes that, for all the government claims that it is investigating the abuses, it still lacks “accountability.” Indeed, the authorities seem to think that they can keep things just as they are without seriously addressing the protesters’ demands.
In February, Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized. Rajab had been marching with his wife and children to Pearl Square, the symbolic epicenter of the Bahraini protesters that was demolished by authorities in March.
Justice minister Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa has claimed that “if there is a person who was directly responsible for torture, then he is being investigated.” But one has only to read the accounts of activists (many of whom are Shi’ite Muslims while Bahrain’s monarchy is Sunni) to question the validity of statements from Bahraini authorities.
Activist Al-Khawaja on Hunger Strike
Long-time rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for other a month in protest of his imprisonment and torture at the country’s notorious Jaw prison. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison on charges of terrorism and planning to overthrow the government. His daughter, Zainab Al-Khawaja, has steadfastly reported about the continuing protests in Bahrain and the government’s continued suppression of these as well as her own activism which has so far led to her being arrested twice.
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Photo of Bahrain's king by Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs