Bahrain protesters `tortured excessively`: Report
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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 20:44
  
Manama: The head of a special commission that investigated Bahrain's unrest said Wednesday that authorities used torture and excessive force against detainees arrested in crackdowns on the largest Arab Spring uprising in the Gulf.

Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni — making the first official comments on report's findings — also said there was no evidence of Iranian links to Bahrain's Shiite-led protests in a clear rebuke to Gulf leaders who accuse Tehran of playing a role in the 10-month-old showdown in the Western-allied kingdom.

The study, which was authorized by Bahrain's Sunni rulers in a bid to ease tensions, marks the most comprehensive document on security force actions during any of the revolts that have flared across the Arab world this year.

Bahrain's Sunni government promised "no immunity" for anyone suspected of abuses and said it would propose creating a permanent human rights watchdog commission.

"All those who have broken the law or ignored lawful orders and instructions will be held accountable," said a government statement, which says the report acknowledges that the "systematic practice of mistreatment" ended shortly after martial law was repealed on June 1.

Bassiouni's summary — read at a news conference attended by Bahrain's king — confirmed expectations that the report would be highly critical of officials in the strategic kingdom, which is the home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet. The full text of the report, which focuses on the period between Feb 14 and March 30, was expected to be released later Wednesday.

Bahrain's Shiites comprise about 70 percent of the island nation's 525,000 citizens, but have complained of widespread discrimination such as being blocked from top government or military posts.

The report cast a harsh light on the tactics used against demonstrators and already noted in rights groups allegations: widespread arrests, purges from workplaces and universities, destruction of Shiite mosques and jail house abuses.

At least 35 people have been killed in violence related to the uprising, including several members of the security forces.

"A number of detainees were tortured ... which proved there was a deliberate practice by some," said Bassiouni.

Investigators, however, "did not discover any role of the Iranian Islamic Republic." The finding is a sharp contrast to claims by Bahrain's leaders and Gulf allies that Shiite power Iran was linked to the protests.

Earlier this month, Bahraini authorities said they arrested five suspected members of an Iranian terror cell that plotted high-profile attacks, including the Saudi Embassy in the capital Manama.

"You found real shortcomings from some government institutions," Bahrain's king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, told Bassiouni, an Egyptian-born professor of international criminal law and a former member of UN human rights panels.

"Some might ask why we asked a commission from outside the country ... Our answer is: Any government that has an honest desire for reform and progress should be aware of the benefit of objective, constructive criticism."

Just hours earlier, street battles broke out after a 44-year-old man died when his car crashed into a house earlier in the day. Protesters say he swerved to avoid security vehicles. Bahrain's government said it has opened an investigation.

Although Bahrain's bloodshed and chaos is small in comparison with the huge upheavals across the Arab world — including renewed protests in Egypt — the island's conflict resonates from Tehran to Washington.

Bahrain is a critical US ally and Washington has taken a cautious line because of what's at stake: urging Bahrain's leaders to open more dialogue with the opposition, but avoiding too much public pressure.

Some US lawmakers have shown signs of growing impatience with Bahrain's rulers. A $53 million arms deal with Bahrain is on hold until the upcoming report is examined.

For Gulf leaders, led by powerful Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is seen as a firewall to keep pro-reform protests from spreading further across the region. Gulf rulers have rallied behind the kingdom's embattled monarchy and sent in military reinforcements during the height of the crackdowns.

Bahrain is also viewed as a front-line fight against Iranian influence. The Sunni Arab monarchy and influential sheiks consider any significant gains by Bahrain's Shiites as a beachhead for Shiite powerhouse Iran, which has called the Saudi-led military units in Bahrain an "occupation force."

The fissures in Bahrain are not new. For decades, Shiites have pushed for a greater voice. Following the start of the Arab Spring, Shiite-led protesters began occupying a square in the capital Manama in February — just days after crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square celebrated the downfall of Hosni Mubarak.

Weeks later, security forces stormed Manama's Pearl Square, tore down the landmark six-pronged monument at its center and imposed martial law. Hundreds of activists, political leaders and Shiite professionals such as lawyers, doctors, nurses and athletes were jailed and tried on anti-state crimes behind closed doors in a special security court that was set up during emergency rule.

Three protesters have been sentenced to death and several prominent opposition leaders were sentenced to life in prison.

Bahrain's rulers have offered some concessions, including giving more powers to parliament and opening up a so-called "national dialogue" on reforms. But authorities have rebuffed a key protest demand for the monarchy to give up control of top government posts and share privileges.

Bureau Report


First Published: Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 20:23


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