Bahrain criticizes report on ongoing rights violations

AP , Friday 17 Apr 2015

File Photo: A Bahraini anti-government protester watches clashes between protesters and police firing tear gas and shotguns, in Bilad al-Qadeem, Bahrain Jan. 20, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Bahrain is hitting back at an Amnesty International report alleging that government reforms have failed to end serious violations of human rights in the Gulf country four years after it was rocked by widespread anti-government protests.

The government said in a statement that the report, released early Thursday, had "significant shortcomings" and did not reflect important clarifications provided by authorities. Bahrain also said the report glosses over "highly significant strides" the government has taken to enact institutional and legal reforms over the past four years.

The 79-page Amnesty report documents what the London-based group calls a "chilling crackdown on dissent" that includes the continued jailing of activists, bans on protests in the capital and instances of torture and other mistreatment of detainees. It also includes new accounts from unidentified Bahrainis of alleged abuse by police during demonstrations over the past year.

Bahrain is a small island kingdom off the coast of close ally Saudi Arabia that is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

Widespread protests in February 2011 that were led by the country's majority Shias sought greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. Authorities crushed the demonstrations with help from their Gulf neighbors, but low-level unrest continues. Small groups of protesters frequently take to the streets and regularly clash with riot police. Many government opponents and rights activists remain in jail.

A fact-finding inquiry into the initial uprising called for overhauls in the political system and investigations into alleged abuses by security forces. Authorities have since put some reforms in place and have created new institutions such as an ombudsman's office tasked with hearing complaints about police misconduct.

In their reply to the report issued late Thursday, Bahraini authorities accused Amnesty of misrepresenting the country's stance on the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly. The government said those rights are protected by the constitution and it "continues to uphold them robustly," but it draws the line at "violent attacks or incitement to violence committed under the guise of free speech and peaceful protest."

"It is the government's duty to protect citizens, residents and visitors alike and the government makes no apology for doing so," it said.

Amnesty's report came out ahead of this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix. The Formula One race is the nation's premier annual sporting event, and a chance for Bahrain to promote itself on the world stage.

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