09 May 2012

Washington, DC – A new Human Rights First report details an intensification of attacks on human rights activists in Bahrain. The new report, “Bahrain’s Reforms: No Backdown on Crackdown,” details judicial harassment, restrictions on access for outside observers, unjust military court cases and ongoing police abuse. “Prominent human rights defenders Zainab Al Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, have been detained in recent weeks. Tomorrow sees another court hearing in the notorious case of the 20 medics convicted after treating injured protestors. The Bahrain regime seems to be ramping up its repression,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Bahrain can talk a good game, but the facts are that the crackdown continues. By not publicly denouncing the repression the United States is quickly losing credibility in Bahrain. It is time they make clear that these abuses must stop.”

Among the key abuses detailed in today’s report are the following:

JUDICIAL HARASSMENT: Bahrain’s National Safety Court, presided over by a military judge, convicted 502 people in 2011. Though the court no longer convenes and appeals have been moved to civilian court, the government continues to pursue charges against those initially convicted in the unfair venue. Among these cases is that of the 20 medics. Also included in this number are 21 prominent dissidents, such as Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who were convicted in military proceedings and sentenced to long prison terms. On April 30, 2012, the highest appellate court in Bahrain announced what it described as a “retrial” for this group. Human Rights First has urged that all those detained be immediately and unconditional released and that the charges against them be dropped. Several prominent human rights defenders have also been arrested and charges in the last few weeks.

ABUSE BY THE POLICE: During Dooley’s trip to Bahrain, he met more than a dozen people who reported being severely beaten by policy in February and March 2012. Local human rights activists say that hundreds of young men have been taken by policy to secret torture centers during the past few months. These victims explained that instead of being formally arrested, booked into a policy station an then mistreated, they were grabbed by a group of riot policy and taken to an alternative site or nearby house to be beaten for several hours. After the beating, police take the victims’ cell phones and money and then abandon the in a remote location. Today’s report provides first-person accounts of these police attacks.

There are nightly reports of tear gas being used against peaceful protests and shot directly into people’s houses. The excessive use of tear gas has prompted The Office of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights to call for the Bahraini government to investigate the use of such excessive force. To date, it is unclear how the police account for the number of canisters they take per shift or how they report the number they use and why.

RESTRICTIONS ON ACCESS: Since the publication of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report in November 2011, it has been difficult for representatives of human rights organizations and other international observers to operate in Bahrain. In January 2012, Human Rights First and other non-government organizations (NGO) were denied access to Bahrain. HRF was admitted in March 2012 under a “new policy” that allows for only a five day visa that requires a local sponsor. Just weeks ago, in a reversal of an early decision, several NGO observers were told they would not be allowed access to Bahrain under a new guideline allowing only one organization to visit at a time.

“Bahrain should protect its human rights defenders, not attack and imprison them.” said Dooley. “The Bahrain regime can produce as much paper as it wants detailing new guidelines and policies and call it reform, but its actions show that its commitment to change is paper thin.”

www.humanrightsfirst.org