Conflict & Justice

Bahrain: Fresh protests as report charges government with excessive force


A Bahraini girl wrapped in her national flag takes part in an anti-regime rally at Pearl Square, the focal point of demonstrations in Manama, on March 1, 2011.


Joseph Eid

Police and protesters clashed in Bahrain Wednesday, as a new report was released accusing the government of violating demonstrators' human rights during months of unrest.

Bahraini security forces used excessive force to clear demonstrations, made unlawful arrests and subjected detainees to "physical and psychological torture," said the head of a special commission set up to investigate the crackdown, former UN human rights lawyer Cherif Bassiouni.

He delivered a summary of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)'s 500-page report to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Wednesday, the BBC reported.

The full findings have not yet been made public, but to judge from Bassiouni's comments, are likely to be highly critical of the government, Al Jazeera said.

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Earlier that day, the channel reported, protests broke out in A'ali, 30 kilometers south of the capital Manama, after a police vehicle allegedly ran a man off the road and killed him.

Its correspondent Gregg Carlstrom says police used tear gas and sound bombs against protesters, and arrested several people in a raid on a makeshift clinic.

The government admitted Monday that protesters had been abused since demonstrations began in February, but appeared to lay the blame with individual members of the security forces, 20 of whom have been charged.

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In a speech Wednesday, King Hamad promised the commission's findings would be a "catalyst for change," reported the Guardian.

He pledged to end the trial of civilians in military courts and replace the officials responsible for mistreatment.

Yet the government's critics say they do not expect great things from the BICI report.

The fact that the panel was appointed by the king has led to accusations of bias, said the BBC's security correspondent France Gardner, as has a rumor in August that the commission intended to clear the government of systematic abuse:

This is a key point for the government which admitted to me in October that abuses had taken place but said they were not systematic.

Human rights campaigners believe they were systematic, and will be reading the coming report closely for any signs of a whitewash.

The commission, made up of five non-Bahraini human rights experts, insists it is independent from the government and has been given full access to official files, Gardner said.

Their report is expected to be published in full later Wednesday.

Civil society groups will release their own investigation on Thursday, according to Amnesty International, which says at least 35 people have been killed since Bahrain's Shia majority began protests to demand greater rights from the Sunni majority.

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