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Bahrain's king pledges reforms after inquiry documents abuses

November 23, 2011 | 12:02 pm

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Bahrain’s king pledged Wednesday that his island nation would turn over a new leaf after a special commission reported that security forces used excessive force and torture against mostly Shiite Muslim protesters who rose up against the Sunni monarchy.

The findings, presented at a palace event attended by King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, were a sharp rebuke of authorities in the strategic Persian Gulf nation that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. 

But they did not satisfy opposition leaders and human rights activists, who said the panel appeared to put the blame for serious violations on individual officers rather than government policy.

Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, who headed the five-month inquiry, outlined a catalogue of abuses that included late-night raids by men in balaclavas, detainees beaten with metal rods and subjected to electric shocks, the destruction of mosques, and purges from universities and workplaces.

Sunnis were also subjected to sectarian attacks during the unrest, said Bassiouni, an Egyptian-born international law professor who has served on U.N. human rights panels.

The inquiry found no evidence of involvement by Shiite Iran, accused by Bahrain and its main regional ally, Saudi Arabia, of stirring the protests that erupted in February and March as uprisings spread through the Arab world.

There was also no evidence of abuses by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sent in to bolster Bahrain's security forces, Bassiouni said.

King Hamed, who commissioned the report in a bid to sooth tensions, said those responsible for abuses would be held accountable and laws reformed to bring them in line with international standards.

“Some may wonder why we asked a commission of foreign experts to examine the events of February and March,” Hamed said. “The answer is that any government which has a sincere desire for reform and progress understands the benefit of objective and constructive criticism.”

The king’s assurances, however, did not convince activists, who said authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a number of protests Wednesday.

"It seems that we are continuing on the same road," said Nabeel Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “I don’t think the attitudes of the government will change because of the report.”


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-- Alexandra Zavis

Photo: Bahrain's King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa arrives Wednesday for the presentation of an investigative report into unrest in Bahrain early this year in Sakhir Palace in Sakhir, Bahrain. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press