Bahrain to prosecute security officers

FINANCIAL TIMES---- By Simeon Kerr in Dubai--- Bahrain has started legal proceedings against 20 security officers for the use of excessive force against protesters, the government said. The move came ahead of the release on Wednesday of a highly anticipated report commissioned by the island state’s king on abuses during the pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the Gulf state earlier this year. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. The cabinet said in a statement on Monday that the government had initiated the prosecutions of the officers after its own investigation uncovered “instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees . . . in violation of government policy”. It added that further measures could be taken. The statement also said the government would propose the criminalisation of torture and stricter sentencing for those found guilty of such abuses, as well as the creation of an independent human rights institution modelled on international best practice. The statement was a tacit admission that the country’s existing human rights body is not fully independent of the state. Commissioned in June by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the independent commission of inquiry, headed by respected war crimes professor Cherif Bassiouni, will issue its report and recommendations on the alleged abuses on Wednesday. Local human rights groups said they would issue their own report the day before, saying they had not been invited to Wednesday’s ceremony when Mr Bassiouni will present the report to the king. Amnesty International, which has welcomed the commission’s work, said the exercise would be meaningless if recommendations “are not translated into real action to redress abuses”. Previous calls for internal investigations into abuses and prosecution of police officers have floundered amid government inaction, activists say. About 45 people, mainly demonstrators, died in the unrest after February’s street protests were followed by deployment of Saudi-led Gulf troops in March to back the US ally’s crackdown on protesters. Bahrain’s modest attempts at reforms since then have been largely rejected by the majority Shia, who have continued to confront security forces as they demand greater rights from the minority Sunni-led government. Opposition activists fear the report will fail to describe the culture of repression allegedly fostered by senior officials that allowed widespread abuses, including allegations of torture, the death of four prisoners in custody among the many hundreds arrested and the sacking of thousands of alleged protest sympathisers. Moderates have pinned some hope on the possibility that the independent report would allow the king to undermine the powerful hardliners within his own ruling family who are believed to have orchestrated the crackdown. The government, which has received submissions from the commission ahead of the report’s publication, said all those found responsible would face punishment. “We can expect that its report will be very critical of these occurrences and the government’s responsibility for failing to prevent them,” the statement said. The cabinet said the security forces had acted with “great restraint” during the disturbances, saying 846 police officers had been injured and four killed. The report comes amid a backdrop of rising tensions on the island following the death of a teenager last weekend after he was run over by a police vehicle. Opposition groups claim the 16-year-old’s death was merely the latest example of an excessive use of force. The government said the teenager died when the vehicle careered out of control after protesters had thrown oil on the road.