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Bahrain Reforms Stuck in Reverse

INSIGHT: Bahrain Reforms Stuck in Reverse
29 November, 2012 – By Brian Dooley – Middle East Voices

Outside of Bahrain government supporters, it’s hard to find anyone who thinks the country’s reform process is going okay.

To mark last week’s anniversary of the publication of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), the report ordered by the King of Bahrain into human rights violations in early 2011, the regime evaluated its own progress. It insists it has made great strides “to complete the legislative framework required to consolidate the rule of the law, protect public freedoms, respect human rights, promote security and stability across the nation, strengthen the democratic march and maintain national unity.”

insight hrf INSIGHT: Bahrain Reforms Stuck in ReverseDespite that claim, those of us who have witnessed Bahrain’s police using excessive force and its sham court trials know there is often a chasm between the country’s PR version and reality. That is why the Kingdom’s response on the BICI anniversary was met with disappointment and frustration – but not surprise – inside and outside the country. The Bahraini government’s claims to be promoting freedom of expression, protecting defendants’ rights and holding to account those responsible for torture is wholly unconvincing to those of us closely following what’s happening there each day.

Human Rights First and other international NGOs knew the government would present a positive gloss on its record, but the irrefutable consensus from the world’s leading human rights organizations is that things have gotten worse in recent months, not better.

Some of the protests have taken on a violent edge, with police and a minority of protestеrs involved in regular clashes. Some protestеrs are throwing gasoline bombs and other missiles at the police. Evidence of police using excessive force, including large amounts of tear gas, continues to be reported. Just in the last few weeks, the Kingdom has banned all public gatherings, sent several people to jail for criticizing the King on Twitter, intensified attacks on civil society figures and stripped 31 Bahrainis of their citizenship.

“No senior official has been prosecuted for the thousands of arrests or held accountable for those who were tortured in custody.” – Brian Dooley, Human Rights First

It’s not just NGOs who are frustrated with the lack of reform in Bahrain. Bahrain has drawn criticism from other governments and international bodies, too. “We are concerned by some of the recent decisions taken by the Bahraini Government, particularly on human rights,” said British Foreign Minister Alistair Burt. A senior U.S. State Department official observed, “What’s unfortunately happened, on accountability, on the hardest issues, is the government has not followed through. … We see people held in prison, prosecuted for demonstrating a year and a half ago, and there’s still not been meaningful police reform.” The United Nations is dispatching a human rights team to Bahrain to examine the situation next week.

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