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Amnesty International responds to Bahrain decision

NEWS STORY
13/04/2012

As discussions around the scheduling of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain intensify, Amnesty International has today released a briefing summarising what it describes as, the continuing human rights crisis in Bahrain.

A full report, "Flawed Reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters" , will be released on Tuesday 17 April. The report will detail the information contained in the media briefing in greater depth, drawing on examples of specific cases and providing legal background and context.

The briefing is as follows:

Human rights in Bahrain

Summary

The human rights crisis in Bahrain is not over. Despite the authorities' claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011.

The Bahraini authorities have been vociferous about their intention to introduce reforms and learn lessons from events in February and March 2011. In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by King Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa, submitted a report of its investigation into human rights violations committed in connection with the anti-government protests. The report concluded that the authorities had committed gross human rights violations with impunity, including excessive use of force against protesters, widespread torture and other ill-treatment of protesters, unfair trials and unlawful killings.

So far, however, the government's response has only scratched the surface of these issues. Reforms have been piecemeal, perhaps aiming to appease Bahrain's international partners, and have failed to provide real accountability and justice for the victims. Human rights violations are continuing unabated. The government is refusing to release scores of prisoners who are incarcerated because they called for meaningful political reforms, and is failing to address the Shi'a majority's deeply-seated sense of discrimination and political marginalisation, which has exacerbated sectarian divides in the country.

In recent months, the Bahraini authorities have become more concerned with re-building their image and investing in public relations than with actually introducing real human rights and political reforms in their country. Indeed, for the authorities, much is at stake. They are keen to portray Bahrain as a stable and secure country in order to stave off international criticism. But as the country prepares to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix on 20-22 April, after the event was cancelled last year in response to the instability in the country, daily anti-government protests continue to be violently suppressed by the riot police that uses tear gas recklessly and with fatal results. Acts of violence by some protesters against the police have also considerably increased in the last three months.

Holding the Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolizing a return to business as usual. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the ongoing human rights crisis in the country. The government must understand that its half-hearted measures are not sufficient -- sustained progress on real human rights reform remains essential.

February-March 2011 protests

On 14 February 2011, inspired by the uprising in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, tens of thousands of Bahrainis went out to the streets to voice their demands. The vast majority of protesters were Shi'a Muslims, who despite being the majority of Bahrain's population, have resented being politically marginalised and discriminated against by the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family which dominate all aspects of political and economic life in Bahrain.

The government's response to the protests was brutal. The security forces used excessive force, including shotguns/live ammunition as well as the reckless use of tear gas, to disperse protesters who mostly camped in the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama. Seven protesters were killed by the security forces in the first week alone in February 2011.

As demonstrations continued to grow, negotiations between the opposition, led by Bahrain's largest Shi'a political organization, the al-Wefaq Society, and the royal family, led by Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, collapsed in early March 2011. The opposition reportedly had demanded that the government resigns before negotiations could take place. Al-Wefaq's 18 members of parliament resigned in February 2011 in protest against police brutality.

After the first week of March 2011, anti-government protesters began to organize peaceful marches to key government buildings. Many were openly calling for an end to the monarchy in Bahrain, and for a republican system to be established instead. Thousands went on strike.

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