Lynne Nahhas, AFP
Last updated: 25 April, 2013

Bahrain “dismayed” by US rights assessment report

Authorities in Bahrain, which has been rocked by Shiite-led protests for two years, have voiced “dismay” over an assessment by the US State Department of the rights situation in the kingdom.

“The report includes texts which are totally far from the truth, adopting a manner that fuels terror and terrorists targeting Bahrain’s national security,” state news agency BNA late on Wednesday quoted government spokeswoman Samira Rajab as saying.

The strategic tiny kingdom of Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, has been hit since February 2011 by a wave of Shiite-led protests calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, an uncle of King Hamad, in office since 1971.

A US State Department report released on April 19 said that “the most serious human rights problems included citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention.”

It criticised the “lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists, medical personnel, teachers, and students, with some resulting in harsh sentences.”

The report claimed that “discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shiite population” which makes up a majority in Bahrain — ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

Rajab “deplored the report for lacking objectivity, totally siding with the terrorists who seek to sow chaos in the whole region.”

Bahrain refers to protesters who clash frequently with police forces in Shiite villages as “terrorists” it claims are backed by Shiite-majority Iran.

The kingdom “reiterated full commitment to comply with the human rights principles and standards in confronting terror which targets Bahrain and innocent civilians,” said Rajab.

The State Department report acknowledged that “some protesters engaged in lethal acts of violence against security forces, including the use of improvised explosive devices, Molotov cocktails, and other improvised weapons.”

Rajab in her statement “urged the US State Department to help countries protect their national security and back their stability, the way the US itself does in the war it is waging on global terror.”

Human rights groups say the political violence in Bahrain has killed at least 80 people since 2011.

Watchdog Amnesty International echoed criticism of Bahrain’s rights record in a statement late on Wednesday after the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez voiced “deep disappointment” over a decision by the kingdom’s government to postpone his planned visit.

Mendez said he had received on April 22 a letter from the Gulf kingdom informing him that the ongoing national dialogue was taking longer than expected and that his visit could impact negatively on the proceedings.

“This latest cancellation shows that Bahrain is clearly not serious about implementing human rights reforms,” said Amnesty.

“There are no reforms in Bahrain, but rather human rights abuses continuing unabated,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s MENA deputy chief.

She urged Bahraini authorities to “immediately release all prisoners of conscience and conduct independent, effective and transparent investigations into allegations of torture.”

“Bahrain’s allies have been far too keen to rely on the facade of reform and to go on with business as usual,” she said. “The cancellation of the visit means there is no pretending anymore.”