Report: Bahrain Used Excessive Force On Protesters

Nov 23, 2011
Originally published on November 23, 2011 4:32 pm

In the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, a special commission accused the government of using excessive force against protesters during an anti-government uprising earlier this year.

The report released Wednesday was unusual in that it was requested by the government itself. But questions remain over what the government will do with the findings.

The commission that issued the report was a rare thing in the Arab world. At a gilded palace with chandeliers and red carpets, a panel of international jurists sat in judgment of a king.

Using words like torture, mistreatment and threatened rape, the head of the commission said the kinds of things that are rarely said out loud — especially in the conservative, oil-rich Gulf.

The commission head, Cherif Bassiouni, listed abuses he says were committed against protesters who were detained: They were blindfolded, forced to stand for long periods of time, whipped, beaten, subjected to electric shock, deprived of sleep, and exposed to high temperatures and insults.

These acts, Bassiouni said, amounted to torture.

The violence began in February, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bahrain. The government responded with a crackdown. More than 30 people died, hundreds were detained, and thousands were fired from their jobs.

No Evidence Of Iranian Involvement

As he delivered his report, Bassiouni said despite claims by Bahrain's government and its supporters, there was no evidence that a foreign country was behind the protests.

"The proofs presented, submitted to the commission, did not show that there was a clear relationship between the events that took place in Bahrain and the role of the state of Iran," he said.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was much less apologetic about what people in Bahrain call "the events." Rather than acknowledging specific abuses in the report, he promised to set up committees and enact new laws.

Opposition leaders in Bahrain say they're encouraged that someone has finally detailed abuses they say went on for months. Investigators say they heard some 9,000 complaints.

But opposition leaders say the report should have gone further — to identify those responsible for the abuse. Not naming names, they say, will only encourage security forces to behave badly.

That theory was tested Wednesday in a poor village that's been known to hold regular protests against the government. A half-hour's drive from the skyscrapers of the capital, people there live in houses made of plywood, corrugated steel, with concrete floors.

Villagers say a man died early Wednesday morning when police rammed his car. The government says it was just an accident.

Either way, the women of the village came to the house of the man who died, says one woman, who didn't want to give her name.

"All the [women were] inside — inside this room. And they closed the door — they come walking, the police, they close the door, and they put the tear gas inside," she says.

Once people heard the women were getting gassed, about 20 or 30 protesters hit the streets, calling for the fall of the regime. Police in riot gear responded with tear gas.

An NPR reporter was among a group of people who ran inside a house to escape the tear gas.

The riot police surrounded the house, pounded on the door, and then fired tear gas canisters at such close range that they ripped holes into the walls of the house.

The standoff lasted an hour. The protesters and the dead man's relatives were holed up in the house, cowering in dark rooms and passing out vinegar to sooth the sting of the gas.

Eventually, the police fell back, giving the group a chance to leave.

They wouldn't even let the women cry for the dead, one woman says, adding that all they wanted to do was come to the house and weep.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

In the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain today, a special commission accused the government of using excessive force against anti-government protesters earlier this year. The report is unusual. That's because it was requested by the government itself. The question now is what the government will do with the findings. NPR's Kelly McEvers has that story from Bahrain's capital.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: The commission that issued the report was a rare thing in the Arab world. At a gilded palace decked with chandeliers and red carpets, a panel of international jurists sat in judgment of a king. Using words like torture, mistreatment and threatened rape, the head of the commission said the kinds of things that are rarely said out loud, especially here in the conservative, oil-rich Gulf. Here's the commission head, Cherif Bassiouni, speaking through an interpreter, listing abuses he says were committed against protesters who were detained.

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: (Through interpreter) To blindfold them, to force them to stand for long periods of time, to whip them, to hit them, electrifying them, to deprive them of sleep and to expose them to high temperatures and insults.

MCEVERS: These acts, Bassiouni said, amounted to torture. The violence began back in February, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bahrain. The government responded with a crackdown. More than 30 people died, hundreds were detained, and thousands were fired from their jobs. As he delivered his report today, Bassiouni said despite claims by Bahrain's government and its supporters, there was no evidence that a foreign country was behind the protests.

BASSIOUNI: (Through interpreter) The proofs presented, submitted to the commission did not show that there was a clear relationship between the events that took place in Bahrain and the role of the state of Iran.

MCEVERS: The king of Bahrain was much less apologetic about what people here call the events. Rather than acknowledging specific abuses in the report, he promised to set up committees and enact new laws. Opposition leaders here say they're encouraged that someone has finally detailed abuses they say went on for months. Investigators say they heard some 9,000 complaints. But opposition leaders say the report should have gone further, to identify those responsible for the abuse. Not naming names, they say, will only encourage security forces to behave badly.

That theory was tested today in a poor village that's been known to hold regular protests against the government. Just a half-hour's drive from the skyscrapers of the capital, people there live in houses made of plywood, corrugated steel, with concrete floors. People in the village say a man died early this morning when police rammed his car. The government says it was just an accident. Either way, the women of the village came to the house of the man who died, said this woman, who didn't want to give her name.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: All the womens was inside, inside this room. And they closed the door, from being - blocking the police, they close the door and they put the tear gas inside.

MCEVERS: You can smell the tear gas.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And the tear gas - lots of tear gas.

MCEVERS: Once people heard the women were getting gassed, about 20 or 30 protesters hit the streets, calling for the fall of the regime. That's when it got ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Okay. There's police in riot gear. We're all running. Okay. Oh, it's tear gas. Oh, my god. All right. We're in the house now.

MCEVERS: But it didn't stop there. The riot police surround the house, then come to the door.

(SOUNDBITE OF POUNDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: That's just right here outside our door. Okay, now we're hiding. They're shooting in the house.

MCEVERS: The police fired tear gas canisters at such close range they rip holes into the walls of the house. The standoff lasted an hour. The protesters and the dead man's relatives holed up in the house, cowering in dark rooms and passing out vinegar to sooth the sting of the gas. Eventually, the police fell back, giving the group a chance to leave. They wouldn't even let us cry for the dead, one woman said. All we wanted to do was come here and cry. Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.