Bahrain govt accepts report of rights violations

AFP , Wednesday 23 Nov 2011

Bahraini government accepts findings of inquiry commission probing violations in the kingdoms brief February uprising and promises reform: probe found no protests links to Iran

Bahraini demonstrators chant anti-government slogans during a march waving flags of Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia along with Bahraini flags in A'ali, Bahrain, Friday, (Photo: AP).

Bahrain's king vowed reforms on Wednesday after a commission of inquiry found that his security forces used "excessive force" and tortured detainees in a March crackdown on Shiite-led protests.

King Hamad commissioned the report to investigate allegations of government misconduct and human rights abuses against protesters, democracy activists, and opposition figures.

On Wednesday he vowed there would be reforms.

"We will introduce and implement reforms that would please all segments of our society," the king said after the findings were released.

He also expressed "dismay" at the mistreatment of Shiite detainees.

"We do not tolerate the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. We are dismayed to find that it has occurred, as your report has found," he said.

Responding earlier to the findings of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, an official spokesman also said the government accepts the criticisms.

"The government welcomes the findings of the Independent Commission, and acknowledges its criticisms," a statement said.

"We took the initiative in asking for this thorough and detailed inquiry to seek the truth and we accept it."

The report also acknowledged that the commission did not find proof of an Iran link to the unrest, dispelling widespread allegations by Sunni Gulf leaders that Iran played a role in instigating the mainly Shiite protests.

"Evidence presented to the commission did not prove a clear link between the events in Bahrain and Iran," said Cherif Bassiouni, the commission's lead investigator.

The mass demonstrations which rocked the Sunni-ruled kingdom earlier this year were violently crushed as government forces used live ammunition and heavy-handed tactics to scatter protesters.

Bassiouni said the death toll from the month-long unrest reached 35, including five security personnel. Hundreds more were injured.

International organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN human rights agency, have repeatedly accused the government of violating citizens' rights, citing allegations of torture, unfair trials, excessive use of force and violent repression.

Investigations conducted by the panel commissioned by the king revealed that security forces "used excessive force" while "many detainees were tortured," Bassiouni said.

In March, Bahraini security forces boosted by some 1,000 Gulf troops crushed the month-long uprising in Manama's Pearl Square, epicentre of the anti-government movement.

On Wednesday, Bassiouni said the commission found no evidence that Gulf troops violated human rights.

"The commission did not find any proof of human rights violations caused by the presence of the Peninsula Shield forces," he said.

Iran and fellow Shiites across the Arab world had slammed the Bahraini government for calling in forces from fellow Sunni monarchies, claiming that the Saudi-led force was used against Shiite Bahrainis.

The report's findings were released hours after clashes in at least two Shiite villages on the outskirts of Manama.

Protests erupted early morning in Aali village where rights activists and an AFP correspondent said police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.

"I saw the police attack. There were a few dozen protesters shouting and chanting. The police attacked them with tear gas, rubber bullets, and sound bombs," said Mohammed Maskati, head of the Bahraini Youth Society for Human Rights.

Nabil Rajab, a Shiite rights and opposition activist, said the victim, Abdelnabi Kadhim, was "apparently not protesting. He was in his car when then police chased after him."

In an online tweet, the interior ministry said a man died in a traffic accident in Aali, adding an investigation was under way. The tweet made no mention of police involvement.

An AFP correspondent in Aali said dozens of men and women chanted "Hamad must fall," referring to the Sunni king whose family has ruled the Shiite-majority kingdom for some 250 years.

Clashes also erupted in the Shiite island of Sitra where mourners protested over the November 19 death of a 16-year-old boy killed after being struck by a police car, witnesses said.

At the time the police said the boy's death was an accident after a police car lost control and hit him.

Speaking to AFP in Aali, protesters said earlier they expected little to change after the rights report.

"This report will not change anything. We don't expect anything from it," said one protester, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"This report serves the interests of the king," said another.

Tensions have remained high since the March crackdown, particularly in the Shiite villages where residents complain of years of marginalisation.

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