Bahrain crit­i­cizes re­port on on­go­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions


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 sig­nifi- cant 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 U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Wide­spread protests in Fe­bru­ary 2011 that were led by the coun­try’s ma­jor­ity Shi­ites 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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