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Bahrain failed to deliver on reforms, rights group says

November 21, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • Protesters scramble as police fire tear gas north of the Bahraini capital of Manama this month.
Protesters scramble as police fire tear gas north of the Bahraini capital… (Mazen Mahdi / European Pressphoto…)

Nearly a year after Bahrain pledged to free political prisoners, investigate torture allegations and embark on other reforms, it has reneged on its promises, Amnesty International said in a scathing new report.

The human rights group excoriated the Persian Gulf island monarchy for ramping up repression in the year since an independent commission chronicled a long list of abuses during a crackdown on protests.

Last November, the government promised the commission's recommendations would be heeded. Officials heralded the creation of the commission as a major step toward reform to help unify the splintering nation.

Instead, Amnesty International said, “the groundbreaking report has been shelved by the spiraling repression in Bahrain,” including rampant police abuses, a sweeping ban on all protests, and stripping dozens of opposition figures of their citizenship. Many dissidents remain behind bars for actions that would not be recognized internationally as crimes, including calling for an “illegal gathering,” it said.

The United States, which sees Bahrain as a strategic ally in the region, has failed to back up its words of concern with action and is now at risk of enabling abuses, the human rights group said. Earlier this year, the U.S. loosened some of its restrictions on weapons sales to Bahrain, to the chagrin of local activists.

“It is now up to the Obama administration to make clear that it is unwilling to stand by and support continued repression,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Bahrain called the report “a gross distortion of fact,” the McClatchy news service reported Tuesday. Officials say they are committed to carrying out the recommended reforms and have taken steps toward change, such as retraining police and dropping charges against hundreds of people.

Banning protests was necessary to maintain security, Bahraini officials said, pointing to violent and sometimes deadly attacks on police. Two officers recently died of injuries sustained during riots, the Bahraini government reported.

The government also emphasizes that police have been taken to court for abuses, including a group of officers charged this week after a video captured an incident. Amnesty International argued that the number of officers put on trial remained low compared with the number of reported abuses.

Raising similar worries as the human rights group, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters Tuesday that the island nation had failed to deliver on reforms and had instead regressed, McClatchy reported. The official spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

Unrest has simmered in Bahrain for more than a year and a half, as dissidents push for greater democracy and more voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni monarchy. The ruling Khalifa family says protests have been stirred up by Iran. A string of deadly bomb blasts hit the nation's capital this month, fueling fears that the enduring conflict could be escalating.

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