25 January 2012

Government's promises of reform unfulfilled, mission announces at Arab Free Press Forum

BCHR president Nabeel Rajab, right, talks with prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani at the Arab Free Press Forum
BCHR president Nabeel Rajab, right, talks with prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani at the Arab Free Press Forum
Bahrain has failed to deliver on promises of reform despite a highly-touted commission of inquiry, says a report from an international mission to the country. "Justice Denied in Bahrain: Freedom of Expression and Assembly Curtailed" finds that rights violations continue daily, and individuals jailed during the government crackdown in February and March 2011 remain in prison.

Despite the government promising to take on recommendations offered by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in November, which found that Bahrain used excessive force in last year's crackdown, "the reality on the ground in Bahrain remains unchanged," says the international mission report launched on24 January in Tunis and London.

"Human rights activists, doctors, teachers, union members, political figures, journalists, bloggers and others continue to face harassment, prosecution and imprisonment despite the use of torture and unfair trials against them," says the mission, which was in Bahrain from 20 to 30 November 2011.

Not a single official has yet been held responsible for the injuries and deaths of more than 50 protesters - a number that continues to grow, says "Justice Denied".

"It seems that despite the BICI report's extensive catalogue of abuses against Bahraini citizens including torture, and a clear condemnation of the culture of impunity, the government of Bahrain is intent on maintaining the status quo. We are not seeing the immediate release of prisoners. Instead there is an interminable succession of postponed trials," said mission member Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International.

The 11 recommendations made in the report include calls for accountability for those responsible for torture and killing, as well as an end to the harassment, imprisonment and prosecution of Bahraini citizens for free expression and legitimate human rights work.

"Freedom of expression is under continuous attack," said Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president Nabeel Rajab, speaking at the report's launch at the Arab Free Press Forum in Tunis. "People are being killed in the street. Just 10 days ago, I was beaten in the street during a peaceful protest. Children are being tear gassed in their homes."

On the day of the launch, 12 individuals who faced charges of illegal assembly, rioting and incitement, including Wafi al-Majed, the husband of human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, were acquitted, but Canadian Naser al-Raas had a five-year prison sentence upheld for peacefully protesting, reports Index on Censorship.

And Freedom House staff members were recently told they would not be allowed entry into Bahrain - even though the BICI report recommends that Bahrain open itself up to international rights organisations.

Part of the problem is that the protests in Bahrain have received scant media coverage and international attention, giving them the moniker of the "forgotten revolution", says Rajab.

"The international human rights community is doing a good job covering violations in Bahrain, but the international media is not picking up the story," he added.

Rajab also pointed out the hypocrisy of the U.S. and the European Union in supporting the Libyan uprising but staying silent on Bahrain. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and is currently negotiating a multi-million dollar arms deals with the U.S.

The Bahrain mission team was composed of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Front Line Defenders, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship, International Media Support and WiPC, and was supported by IFEX.

The full mission report can be found here.
International Mission to Bahrain Report says promises for reform unfulfilled, while situation deteriorates

Front Line has also put up videos from the mission here.
Human rights defenders in Bahrain

Summaries of all the Arab Free Press Forum conference sessions where the mission report was launched can be found on Twitter #afpf12 and here.
Arab Free Press Forum

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