So I have just finished reading the Bahrain government’s follow up report to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report. I was not expecting anything particular newsworthy today, but there I was, choking on my cereal and letting my tea go cold. What follows is a summary of some of the most salient aspects of the report. It is a testament to the government’s lack of sincerity with regards to reform. It illustrates their reluctance to hold people accountable for last year’s abuses, and has no real indicators of impending positive change. Having said that, it’s not all bad news, the report contains photos of mosques and prisons cells, meaning reforms are definitely underway…
Police, Accountability and Justice
The most alarming finding of the follow up report is that 45 death cases were closed ‘ due to lack of evidence of any criminal act’ (para 25). 45 is a colossal number of people, and to have cases closed in so many cases is just ludicrous. Given all this police training, have CID neglected to go to policing 101 – ‘how to solve a murder?’. Oh wait, let’s remember the government cannot, in reality, prosecute so many officers for essentially ensuring the survival of the regime. That just wouldn’t be fair.
Although most of us were angered by the fact no high up officials resigned or were investigated for the ongoing abuses, some took solace in the fact the government appeared to be holding police officers to account for those abuses. However, the government seem incapable of doing even this. In trying to determine how many policemen have been put in prison because of abuses carried out last year, I count, erm, zero? One was given 7 years for murdering Hani Abdel Aziz, the other given 5 years for shooting a Bahraini in the leg. However, the latter is thought to not have served his sentence, which was also reduced to 3 years given the accused’s medical condition. The officer given 7 years is also ‘free pending the outcome of his appeal‘. In an interview with Human Rights Watch published today, head of the BICI team Cherif Bassiouni commented on the case of the policeman accused of shooting Hani Abdel Aziz;
“You can’t say that justice has been done when calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence and the officer who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range only gets seven years,”
The follow up report issued in June also states 3 officers were convicted of assault and battery (para 7). What’s funny about this, is that the latest report documents all deaths reported, but fails to mention that any police personnel have been convicted. Usually the regime are quick to ‘laud’ their commitment to justice, so why have they not mentioned that any police officers have been convicted? Very worrying.
The report provides an extensive table documenting the case of each death, detailing ‘ investigation findings’ and ‘reported on websites’. This section is a blatant exercise in PR, as it provides a summary of the deaths, which is almost always accompanied by a justification of the security forces behavior The authors are careful to state before any implication of wrong doing that the security forces were either ‘ combating a riot’, or ‘ on duty’. They are also careful to state the police ‘were attacked’ – the implication being that anything they did was in self-defense (two cases of security forces accused of killing were actually thrown out on the grounds of self defense. 25) . When they detail the version of the story reported on websites it always a cursory one liner such as ‘fatally shot in the head’. (Because websites are always sensationalist right. FOLLOW THE MOI TWITTER ACCOUNT FOR ACCURATE INFORMATION ON BAHRAIN). See below for an example of the PR-soaked, table of deaths.
Another surprising element about the report is that the government provide one of the highest figures for the number of those killed during and after the unrest. Their figure is 92, whereas IFEX, for example, use a figure of about 80. While the regime’s generosity with figures may be a cynical attempt to illustrate their commitment to transparency, their actual ability to investigate those deaths is extremely distressing. That’s at least 45 families who have absolutely no taste of justice.
Abuse and Torture
Out of 122 cases of mistreatment and torture reported to the authorities, only 11 police personnel were taken to court, the highest ranking of whom was a Lieutenant Colonel. Given the trajectory of previous cases, I imagine they will all be acquitted, perhaps with the removal of doughnut privileges (para 28). With regards to accountability for torture and civilian deaths, Bassiouni said;
“A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly…The public prosecution has yet to investigate over 300 cases of alleged torture, some involving deaths in custody, and there has been no investigation, let alone prosecution, for command responsibility, even at the immediate supervisory level, of people killed in custody as a result of torture.”
Media and Misc
Another salient aspect of the report, and one that reveals the government’s refusal to cede control over their control apparatus is the section on media. Indeed, they say all the right things, and reiterate their commitment to freedom of expression etc, but ultimately the execution will smack of authoritarianism. This is is because ‘ freedom of opinion and expression’ will be regulated by the ‘Supreme Council for Media and Communication’ . This Council concists of 9 members who are appointed by royal order (para 118). That’s right, the King will be appointing the body that is meant to ensure freedom of opinion and expression. Bear in mind 4 people are currently serving a total of up 17 months in jail for insulting the King on Twitter. Even today, the Gulf Daily News announced that there could be a penalty of up to five years for those who insult the King. With regards to media freedom, even POMED’s recent report stated that there was no evidence to suggest that opposition were being granted greater media access.
So there you have it. The Bahrain government has itself issued a report that makes a mockery of its reform claims. That 45 death cases have been dropped is itself enough to make one doubt the integrity of such claims, but the continued lack of justice and accountability, the banning of protests, the revoking of activists’ citizenship, the arrest of ppl for exercising their right to freedom of expression, continued police brutality, the asymmetric application of law, all point to the continuation of authoritarian rule. Even Bassiouni acknowledged the outrageous nature of Bahrain’s legal system, arguing that people whose confessions were extracted through torture were allowed to stand. Bassiouni stated;
“I cannot think of a more egregious and specious legal opinion – admitting that the torture occurred but ruling the confession admissible and allowing the conviction to stand…This constitutes a violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a party.”
The report would arguably be an exercise in PR if it were not so limp. It is, however, quick to laud members of the Al Khalifa family. Victims of last year’s unrest will be delighted to know that both the Youth Creativity Award and the Youth Dialogue Initiative are named after accused torturer Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Lovely.
To conclude, I will cite Amnesty’s report, that was released to coincide with anniversary of the BICI report.
The legacy of the BICI report is fading fast, increasingly overshadowed by ongoing impunity for torture, the jailing of activists, and the ban on all protests. In the face of what increasingly appears to be a defunct reform process, those who have championed Bahrain’s record on reform must be increasingly forced to challenge the charade