“We see people held in prison, prosecuted for demonstrating a year and a half ago, and there’s still not been meaningful police reform,” he said. Now tensions are rising on the streets of the island, and the combined developments “are making it harder for the two sides to come together.”
“We are urging both political opposition and government to find a way to negotiate,” he said. “We are worried that this society is moving apart rather than coming together in a way that would ensure both human rights and stability.”
Amnesty International, a leading human rights watchdog, assailed the government of Bahrain for effectively shelving the Bassiouni commission report, which is formally known as the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry, or BICI. “Bahrain has reneged on promised reforms made one year ago and has expanded repression instead of dismantling it,” Amnesty said in its report.
“The November 2011 BICI report found the Bahraini government responsible for gross human rights violations, and documented widespread abuses. It made a series of recommendations – which the government committed itself to implement – including calling on the authorities to bring those responsible for abuses to account and to carry out independent investigations into allegations of torture and other violations. The establishment of BICI, made up of international human rights and legal experts, was considered a groundbreaking initiative.”
The government of Bahrain called the Amnesty report “a gross distortion of fact” and said its title, “Reform Shelved, Repression Unleashed,” indicated “an agenda not conducive to encouraging reform and reconciliation.” It said 98 percent of workers who’d been fired after the protests had been reinstated, and Shiite mosques demolished by the government were being rebuilt. In addition, it said major reforms had been instituted in the security agencies.
The government statement, obtained from the Bahrain Embassy in Washington, omitted any mention of its latest crackdown.
Jawad Fairooz was a Shiite member of the Bahraini Parliament who resigned in protest over the government’s crackdown in February and March 2011, at the start of the Arab Spring. Security authorities arrested him in May 2011 and held him for 15 months, during which he said he was tortured.
“They took me to a military jail, where they hit me with boots and sticks, hit my head with a gun, subjected me to electrical shock,” he told McClatchy in a phone interview from London, where he is now living. “They threw me to the ground, they used sexual insults.” He said he’d written up a complete account of his mistreatment and sent it to every top government official, starting with King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa.
“I got no answer. I was punished in jail for 15 months. Those who tortured me are free, and maybe they will be honored,” he said.
Some observers who know Bahrain well say the problem with reforms is that the royal family is deeply divided, with Saudi Arabia throwing its considerable support behind the hard-line prime minister, Khalifa ibn Sulman Al Khalifa, with the king and the reformist crown prince, Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, unable to mobilize the bureaucracy to carry out the king’s orders.
The senior State Department official declined to discuss the competence of the Bahraini government as such. Instead he spoke of the need for “an environment in Bahrain where people are able to express themselves freely, to assemble, to demonstrate, to speak, to engage in a real debate about the differences in the society.” And he urged the opposition to speak out forcefully against violence.