6-18-2012By Brian Dooley
Human Rights Defenders Program
Meaningful human rights reform in Bahrain appears as distant as ever, despite the regime’s repeated promises. The disconnect between the its actions and its words is baffling. Perhaps the regime could clear up the confusion by explaining its approach on human rights. It could begin with these five simple questions.
- Why did nine medics, officially declared innocent by the Bahrain Court of Appeal on June 14, sign written statements confessing to crimes they did not commit? How did you obtain such statements? These medics, and the 11 others convicted with them by the military court last year, always insisted on their innocence. They tell consistent and credible stories of having been tortured into signing false confessions. Now that their innocence has been recognized by the Bahraini courts, the investigation into their wrongful convictions should begin immediately, and those who tortured them held accountable.
- Why won’t you let us in? Human Rights First has been denied entry into Bahrain for the second time this year. We were denied access to the country in January and after being granted access for five days in March, we planned to visit again from June 22-29. We notified the Bahrain authorities of our plans on May 3, only to be told last week that “The scheduling of meetings in the period before and after the Holy Month of Ramadan is always difficult, not just for government officials as you suggest, but for the country as a whole. It is important to remember that this calendar date is set far in advance and unfortunately your request in early May was probably too late for administrative purposes.” Despite assurances that international observers are welcome, we are among several NGOs to have been denied entry in recent weeks. In March, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez was told a few weeks prior to his scheduled arrival date that he should not come. In April, Ana Gomes, a Member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, was turned away at Manama airport. It looks like Bahrain is uncomfortable with international scrutiny.
- What are your rules on the use of tear gas? There are increasing numbers of injuries and deaths from the use of tear gas by the Bahrain security forces. In March, a UN spokesperson said, “Reliable sources indicate that the civilians who died from tear gas suffered complications from gas inhalation, and that security forces have been firing metal tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into crowds. We call on the Government of Bahrain to investigate the alleged use of such excessive force.” Since then, more deaths and injuries have been reported. What are the rules governing how much tear gas is issued to individual police personnel, how they are instructed to deploy it, and how they account for what they have used?
- Why are there continuing reports of detainees, including children, being tortured in your custody? Local human rights organizations and press accounts continue to document cases of people who report having been beaten, threatened, and sexually assaulted in custody. For example, Al Wasat newspaper reported this week that a lawyer filed a criminal complaint claiming that her client had been tortured and sexually assaulted by security officers. In another case, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), 13 year-old Sayed Yaseen Sayed Abduljaleel Shubber was arrested by riot police in his neighborhood on 13 April and released two weeks later. Torture marks “were very apparent on his back and face, especially near his eyes. Disregarding the evidence of torture, juvenile court ordered his detention.”
- Why are you still targeting prominent human rights defenders? Next week human rights defenders including Zainab Al Khawaja, President of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab, leaders of the Bahrain Teachers Association Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jalila al Salman and human rights lawyer Mohammed Al Tajer are all due to face court charges related to the peaceful expression of their views and their human rights work. If Bahrain is serious about human rights reform it should drop the charges against not just these people but against all of the hundreds convicted by the military court last year and all those prosecuted for the peaceful expression of their views.
It would be great to hear answers from the Bahrain authorities to these questions (I have plenty more). Since I’m not allowed into Bahrain to raise these issues in person—unless, of course, they change their minds—I’ll be eagerly awaiting their response in writing. They know where to find me.